The Iceman (4 stars)

The Iceman

Impressive mafia-themed dramatic thriller starring Michael Shannon, James Franco and Ray Liotta

Is there no film Michael Shannon doesn’t excel in? Here the star of Take Shelter plays real-life New Jersey hitman Richard Kuklinski, who – upon his arrest in 1986 – is thought to have committed over 100 assassinations. Directed by Israeli-born filmmaker Ariel Vromen, Shannon delivers a masterclass in cold-blooded volatility in a movie that feels more indebted to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas than to David Chase's The Sopranos.

The rub here is not just how Kuklinski rose from being a humble back-street porno movie pirate to a feared contract killer, but how he managed to keep it all secret from his wife Deborah (Winona Ryder), his children and neighbours in the NJ ’burbs. If ever there was a man able to compartmentalise, it’s Kuklinski, who could dispatch his victims in all manner of hideous ways before coming home to kiss his kids goodnight.

Yet as shown by this script, drawn from a 1992 documentary and Anthony Bruno’s true crime novel, not even a man as unemotional as Kuklinski can keep killing without the paranoia spilling over. Driven by Shannon’s man-of-steel turn, the cast is uniformly excellent: from Captain America star Chris Evans as an ice-cream van-driving fellow assassin to James Franco’s wheedling victim and Ray Liotta as a thuggish crime lord.

Shot in a gloomy palette of browns and blacks, Vromen resists the temptation to pander too much to the era: although there are nods, from co-star David Schwimmer’s handlebar ’tache to a fine disco moment as Kuklinski claims a victim on the dance floor to the strains of Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’. What truly impresses, though, is how the narrative is punctuated with violent flashpoints. As ultra-efficient as its sociopathic subject, The Iceman knows exactly when to pull the trigger.

General release from Fri 7 Jun.

'The Iceman' Trailer

The Iceman

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 1h 46min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ariel Vromen
  • Cast: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans
  • UK release: 7 June 2013

The true story of Richard Kuklinski, happy family man by day and notorious hitman by night. His wife and daughters were blissfully unaware of his double life until his arrest in 1986.