The Iceman Blu-ray Review
Do you like true stories played out like fiction? Do you like shows like Law & Order or the ‘reality’ shows that focus on the events in and around specific crimes or criminals? These types of shows always interest me though it is easy to grow tired of them; there are just too many. When I heard about THE ICEMAN, the new Michael Shannon (Zod from this years hit MAN OF STEEL) vehicle, I was cautiously hopeful for a decent story of the nation’s most prolific and terrifying known hitman (or serial killer, depending on your view). I’ve watched several interviews with the real Richard Kuklinski, a terrifyingly sociopathic personality who has no remorse for his actions. Having seen those I was afraid I might be a little too knowledgeable to enjoy this movie; but in the end it was the uneven filmmaking that lost my attention, instead of the story.
THE ICEMAN is the aforementioned Richard Kuklinski, and the movie begins with him behind bars, an old man, being asked by someone if he has any regrets. He sits and stares into the void, and we are whisked into the past. Kuklinski is a young, single man working a low level position copying pornographic films for the mob to distribute. In fact, if he hadn’t been in the wrong place at the right time he might have lived his entire life on this meager existence. Instead, a chance encounter with boss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) results in his being recruited for new assignments. The rules are simple – do whatever is asked. Don’t ask questions. Don’t mess up. Don’t work for anyone else. This helps Kuklinski maintain his outer life while being able to do what he secretly relishes for a living. But when the heat starts to come down on his boss, Iceman is left without a way to earn and thus starts to lose control of his ‘normal’ life.
This all works out well for Kuklinski, who is starting a family (though they have no idea who he really is) and is looking for something bigger. Part of the interesting duality portrayed by Shannon much more convincingly than when you see the real Kuklinski is the fact that he genuinely seems to care for his family. General wisdom on his believed psychoses would tell us that this is more related to his keeping up appearances than to his actual love of wife and family but you really never wonder about how much he cares for them thanks to Shannon’s brilliant acting. Winona Ryder plays Kuklinski’s wife, Deborah Pellicotti, and she does a decent job though it doesn’t take much screen time to remember why she isn’t in many movies anymore.
In terms of an interesting biopic, this would probably have made more sense as a ‘made for television’ mini-series or a LifeTime special if it wasn’t so bloody… but Shannon’s performance, the blood, and a little bit of language are really the only things keeping THE ICEMAN from wallowing in that kind of corny, awful tripe so often presented to the American people. The same could be said for the direction. Ariel Vromen debuts a pretty decent cast and a nice atmosphere but the direction of the film is almost non-existent. In fact it feels very out of control for much of the film, like the entire process was possibly just a hair’s breadth from being canned at any point.
Another interesting tidbit is the fact that THE ICEMAN features some other strange casting choices. I call them strange because only one of them really works and all the rest pull you out of the story. The one that works is Chris Evans (Captain America from THE AVENGERS). The more I see from Evans the more convinced I am he is a truly gifted actor. I don’t know how long the sun will shine on him, but I’m excited to see what he does going forward. The really weird casting includes the use of David Schwimmer (really!?!) as a Jewish adoptee of Liotta’s Demeo. Schwimmer’s character is constantly in trouble, but he plays everything with the same terrible monotone – there isn’t anything dynamic about him. Equally confusing is the casting of James Franco, which is all over the box and in their materials about THE ICEMAN; despite the fact he’s in the film for a total of about four uninspiring minutes. Then there’s Liotta as crime boss Roy Demeo, someone you might find interesting if you hadn’t seen the exact same role in about 5 other movies. It’s getting tired, Ray.
Whether you’re a fan of crime stories or not, there is a lot to like about THE ICEMAN since almost every scene revolves around the volatile and talented Michael Shannon. It’s sad, though, that the end product is so mediocre. I’d love to recommend it but just can’t for any but the most ardent fans of great performances. THE ICEMAN just never hits on all cylinders, despite Shannon’s herculean efforts.
THE ICEMAN BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1.78:1) The video is crisp and the shots are composed well enough. There are some very stylized moments, not enough to really pay off and get you invested though; just enough to pull you out and remind you that you’re watching an independent film.
Audio: (English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD) The presentation of the sound on the Blu-ray of THE ICEMAN is immersive without knocking you over, the kind of package you hope for on a character piece like this. The audio captures every moment brilliantly.
The Making of THE ICEMAN (29:35) HD interviews with the cast and crew discuss various aspects of THE ICEMAN production process, from the beginning of the idea to the promotion of the film. For a standard feature on Blu-ray and DVD, this one is particularly interesting though it’s a little slow from time to time. Again Shannon steals the show with his discussion of the character.
THE ICEMAN Behind the Scenes (08:12) Shots from the production (in HD) are interspersed with footage from the film and from the interviews (above). It’s frustrating that they are included twice (interviews) but this is a fun, quick special feature.
THE ICEMAN rounds out this below average Blu-ray package with Previews of additional films from Millennium studios.