Michael Shannon’s typically intense performance as a cold-blooded contract killer (based on real-life hitman Richard Kuklinski, who allegedly killed between 100 and 250 people) elevates The Iceman, which otherwise has little reason to exist apart from a viewer’s morbid curiosity. Taking place from 1964, when Kuklinski married a nice but extremely naïve woman (Winona Ryder) and made the transition from dubbing porn actors to offing citizens, through 1986, when he was finally arrested, the film dispassionately observes its subject’s “career,” which he’s careful to keep compartmentalized from his thoroughly humdrum family life. That is, until a pissed-off Mafia soldier (Ray Liotta) finally comes gunning for him.
Shannon has demonstrated his range in previous films ranging from Bug (manic vehemence) to Mud (serene wisdom), and Kuklinski, depicted here as a genuinely loving husband and father with a hair-trigger temper, provides the actor with a terrific showcase for everything he can do. But while there’s some fun to be had in seeing the Iceman team up with an unrecognizable Chris Evans as a fellow hitman dubbed Mr. Freezy (for his technique of storing victims in an ice-cream truck), for the most part the movie is just one unemotional murder after another. After a while, even violent death becomes monotonous.