As intense as actor Michael Shannon has been on screens large and small, his chilling performance in Ariel Vroman's The Iceman ups the ante.
Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski, a loving husband to wife Deborah (Winona Ryder), devoted father of two teenage girls, and a genuine contract killer who, by the time of his death in a New Jersey prison, is believed to have performed that task over 100 times.
The movie opens with him an old bewhiskered inmate contemplating on off-screen query: "Do you have any regrets for the things you've done?" Before he can answer, the film flashes back to his first date with Deborah, where he tells her he dubs voices for Disney movies. In fact, he dubs porn films, and it's not the last lie he tells her in a marriage that becomes an extended fallacy.
Kuklinski begins working for a clammy mobster (a cast-to-type Ray Liotta) after he's put to a gruesome test of his skill set: kill, for no reason, a homeless man outside their car. Task completed, he becomes the go-to gun (or knife or cyanide) for hire, accruing a nice enough income in the process to buy a pleasant home in a middle-class Jersey suburb.
By the mid-1970s, his career is thriving, though it's not the one his wife thinks he has, having convinced her and his friends he's in "currency exchange." He gets away with the story and the murders because he's not the kind of man who brings his work home - until consequences of said work cross his threshold. No one dares double-cross him lest they face the wrath of a killer who can perform with alarming speed sans a trace of conscience.
Besides Shannon's impressive and scary performance and Ryder's taut, tense work, the movie constantly surprises with the well-known faces that crop up in short yet dense cameos: Stephen Dorff as Richard's incarcerated little brother (who relays a tale from their abusive childhood that explains a lot of Richard's rage); David Schwimmer as a co-worker who can't control his loose lips or greedy ambition; and the ubiquitous (but always welcome) James Franco as one of Richard's victims. Chris Evans scores as well as a fellow executioner, bomb expert, and ice cream truck vendor by the name of Freezy
The movie's screenplay, written by Vroman and Morgan Land, has a strange logic; it puts all Richard's deeds into insane perspective. The result is a vivid portrait of an irreparably damaged man who doesn't kill serially in the Jeffrey Dahmer sort of way but routinely, as if with his victims' last breaths, he punches the time clock and goes home for a late supper.