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Movies

'Iceman' looks at chilling killer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 11:08 AM

The phrase "banality of evil" popped up when historians sought to explain the bland men and women who carried out the Holocaust, when critics looked for ways to describe the often dull villains that Alfred Hitchcock astutely observed were not all that interesting, outside of their crimes.

Richard Kuklinski could be banality of evil's poster-child. A poker-faced family man, from New Jersey no less, this real-life monster carried out cold-blooded killings for the mob for more than a decade. Nothing glamorous about it, no sexual-sadistic glee evident on his part. Just a job of work, a cold calculation on who had to die, and how that death could be achieved without Kuklinski getting caught.

Michael Shannon has the voice and face of a mass murderer in this film, the sort of man who can tell his soon-to-be wife (Winona Ryder) "I dub cartoons for a living," when in reality he duplicates porn films for the mob. And when mobster Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) orders it, Richie Kuklinski has no more compunction about killing for money than he does about making porn.

"The Iceman" establishes that this guy had a temper long before he was paid to murder for the mob. His rage is under control. He knows his place, which keeps him alive when Demeo and his lieutenants (David Schwimmer among them) jerk him around.

He becomes "The Polack," a reliable killer for the Jersey mob who isn't Italian. Therefore he'll never become "a made man," a genuine "goodfella."

That's the film that "The Iceman" best compares to, and it's no coincidence that here Liotta has his best screen role since "Goodfellas." He plays paranoid and ruthless with a lifetime of abandon here, a brittle, brilliant turn.

Shannon makes Richie stoic, quiet, a guy who never talks about his methods, even when he hooks up with a hipper version of himself, played with manic verve by Chris "Captain America" Evans.

"Pray to God. Tell him to come down and stop me," Kuklinski tells one victim. He's a little slow, maybe even conflicted, and he's looking for a reason to believe.

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