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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Iceman



THE ICEMAN (Three Stars)

U.S.: Ariel Vromen, 2013

You want to know what “The Iceman” is? I’ll tell you. It was the nickname of a real-life Jersey guy named Richard Kuklinski who killed people for a living — and he’s the subject, the main guy,  of a new movie called The Iceman, where he‘s played by that great  f–kin’ actor Michael Shannon. Keep in mind that this fictionalized. They make some stuff up. But he (Richie I mean) was really good at it — whacking over a 100 guys by his count, maybe 250 by others, filling his contracts in so many different ways(shooting, strangling, poison, busting heads  slitting throats, etc) that he never seemed to leave a signature. A pro, you know what I mean?

Richie started killing people in the 1960s, when he worked in the porn industry, and eventually he got hired by this wise guy Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) as a regular hit man for the Gambino family, and he was the best they had, the best you’ve ever seen, never mind that he wasn’t Italian. He was Polish. (Excuse me, he was Polish-American.) He was also a good family man. He took good care of his family — his wife Deborah (Wynona Ryder) and their two daughters Betsy and Anabel (Mega Sherrill and McKaley Miller) — and they didn’t have  a clue all those years what Richie really did for a living  (He told them he worked for Walt Disney, then that he was in something called currency valuation.)

The mob called him The Iceman because sometimes he’d kill a  guy, then put him on ice and freeze him, and drop the body later, so the cops would be confused about the time of death. And also, of course, because the guy was like ice on the job, absolute ice. As cold as a Smith and Wesson, loaded,  shoved against your neck, But don’t get me wrong: Richie had his nice side too. I mean, he took care of his family.  He never killed a guy unless he was being paid or unless the guy had it coming. And he never killed women or children. Never.

That was his big mistake.

I won’t tell you what happened to Richie — you may know already because they made a TV documentary and wrote  a book about him — and besides, you want a few surprises here, don‘t you? One thing that‘s no shock. Michael Shannon is terrific as Richie. I mean, the best. Even though the real Kuklinski was 300 pounds and Shannon is a better-looking guy, But it’s the movies, you know? This show has a lot of other even better-looking guys — I mean leading-man or one time leading-man types like Liotta as Roy, and David Schwimmer, that “Friends” guy, as this slimy little louse named Josh Rosenthal, and Chris Evans, Captain America himself, as this other hit man named Robert Pronge, whose cover is he drives a Mr. Freezy ice cream van, and Stephen Dorff as Joey, Richie’s brother in the slammer. And James Franco — he‘s only in one scene, but it’s a beauty. He plays this Marty Freeman, one of Richie’s hits, who prays to God to save him from Richie. I won’t tell you what happens. Hell, you already know.

But you know. why is Michael Shannon so Goddam good? The “Boardwlk Empire” Michael Shannon. I mean, the guy is first-rate, fabulous, good enough for an Oscar. Absolutely. You remember Revolutionary Road? Take Shelter? Bug? The tall crazy-looking guy with that weirdo don’t f-ck-with-me  stare? No Oscar out of at least one of those?  Give me a break. He should have had at least one, maybe two. And now one for this.

I tell you, it‘s amazing: He’s got this creepy look that scares the sh-t out of you. Never cracks a smile.When he talks, we believe him. I mean you believe this guy can slit the throat of some schmucko pool-player he just met, and then go home and be a good husband and father to Wynona and the girls. You believe he was this smart-ass spooky intellectual in Revolutionary Road too, and this obsessed crazy guy in Take Shelter. And the nut job in Bug.  All I can say is: My hat is off to the bastard. A Chicago guy, I hear.

They just shouldn’t wait too long to give him his prize, you now? They shouldn‘t wait until he’s some old guy who has to drag his ass up on stage and mumble and got propped up by some big star introducer a–hole. They should give it to him while he can still stare down the camera, while he can still make some money off it.

Though I imagine he makes plenty of money anyway, Like Richie. He sure as hell makes enough movies.

The other actors and actresses, they’re pretty good too. I mean better than pretty good. Maybe not great, but just on the edge of great. The movie is just on the edge of great, too. I’m not sure what it’s missing, except maybe it’s like The Godfather. They need more scenes of Richie’s family life, with Deborah (Wynona), and the kids. Like Coppola had lots of scenes with the Corleone family. He started the whole movie with that big family wedding, and that was the best scene in the whole damned movie.

I don’t know, Maybe somebody thought that having too many scenes with Wynona at home would start to get boring. But you know what I think? Maybe that’s where the real tension of the movie lies. I in this guy, this hit man, trying to keep up his front with his family and neighbors, and sometimes the mask almost slips, you know?  Anyhow, it would have been some kind of  contrast.

You know, the whole look of the movie reminded me a little of The Godfather. It’s dark and like shadowy and kind of grimy. Like real life, you know? The guy who shot it, the cameraman, Bobby Bukowski — another Polish guy, I guess. He’s good at shooting, like Richie. And you know what I hear? They shot this picture in Louisiana some place, not New Jersey. Just like that Brad Pitt movie where he was a hit man and so was the Sopranos guy Gandolfini. They shot that one in New Orleans, and, in the book, it was supposed to have been in Boston. Hey, what is this thing about Louisiana anyway? We’re a long ways away from Carlos Marcello — that old New Orleans outfit boss they think was partly behind the Kennedy hit.

Ah, fuggedaboutit. But there’s another thing that might interest you, especially since they only have this one Jew character in the picture I think, this Rosenthal, and he’s a louse. Iceman was directed and also some of it was written not by a guy like Scorsese or Coppola, some paisano like you’d think, but I swear, by this  Jewish guy Ariel Vromen, who comes from Israel. Can you believe it? What’s the deal, they’re running out of Italians? They’re maybe giving Liotta and Gandolfino too much, and De Niro  and that kid DiCaprio? Like hell they are. But anyway, you figure: the Israelis, in Tel Aviv, there’s a lot of blood in the streets there too. Maybe there’s whatever you call it, an affinity. An analogy. Whatever.

But I give this Ariel guy credit. You listen to the dialogue and you’d swear they’re all from New Jersey –or some place a lot like it.  Not like they’re copying The Sopranos or something, but the mood of it. The swing of it,  you know what I mean? I don’t know what else this director guy did — some movie named  Danika, I never heard of it  — but this one gets a lot of points, if for nothing else than it gives Michael Shannon that role of Richie Kuklinski , which is one hell of  role.

I tell you, Shannon looks at you, or he looks at the camera, whatever, and the cold sweat just shoots right through you. I bet it spooks you almost as much as if you saw the real-life Iceman guy, the real Richie, ready to ice somebody. Or like Angelo, Gina Maria’s brother-in-law, Remember him? The one who threw that numbers guy, Crazy Sonny Monicelli,  down the stairs on Dominic‘s party on the Feast of San Genarro? He — I mean the real Richie — has to have been scary too, you know? How many people did I say he killed? 100? 250? Hey, that’s a lot of people. That‘s impressive.


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2 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: The Iceman”

  1. Tess says:

    He didn’t just kill if paid or if they had it coming. He once got a car to pull over to pretend to ask for directions and shot the guy with his new toy (a cross bow I think). When asked why he did it, he replied, ‘I wanted to see if it worked’.

  2. Briane says:

    “They’re maybe giving Liotta and Gandolfino too much, and De Niro and that kid DiCaprio?”

    Liotta isn’t even of Italian descent, haha. 🙂

    DiCaprio and DeNiro are as Italian as Chris Pine and Louis C.K. are Jewish.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon