A couple of weeks ago I predicted that Cate Blanchett would receive an Oscar nomination for her performance in Blue Jasmine. This week I’m predicting that Michael Shannon will surely be nominated for his performance in The Iceman, and if he isn’t I’ll eat my hat (given that I don’t actually own any hats this is a fairly risk-free strategy).
Shannon is in my view one of the best actors of his generation and he rarely makes a bad film. If you’re a fan of Boardwalk Empire, you’ll already know him as Nelson Van Alden, the once God-fearing Prohibition Agent turned bad, but for further proof of his tremendous talent, check out his Oscar nominated performance in Revolutionary Road, or his performances in Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories, and The Missing Person.
The Iceman is based on the story of Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer for the Mafia in New Jersey and New York. Over a career that spanned twenty years Kuklinski killed more than one hundred people whilst appearing to be a devoted husband and father. When he was eventually apprehended neither his wife nor his daughters had any idea that Kuklinski was leading a double life.
Kuklinski, in common with many criminals, had an appalling childhood, suffering abuse at the hands of both of his parents. By his early twenties he had a reputation for being an explosive man, someone who beat or killed people merely for a perceived insult. His temper brought him to the attention of the DeCavalcante crime family who employed him as a hitman. It became apparent that this was the perfect career for the sociopathic Kuklinski, allowing him to channel his rage and make money from it. He began working for the Gambino crime family and over the years he experimented extensively looking for the best ways to kill people, earning his nickname from the fact that he used to freeze his murder victims so the police would be unable to determine a time of death.
Shannon plays Kuklinski and gives a powerhouse performance. He perfectly conveys Kuklinski’s ability to lead a dual life; loving and kind to his wife and kids, wantonly cruel and mercenary with his victims. There are moments in the film where Kuklinski is terrifying, such as the scene where he toys with one of his victims (played by James Franco) for half an hour before killing him, and moments that are funny and warm, like the scene where he and his wife (played by Winona Ryder) are interrupted during sex by their kids (the frustrated looks Shannon gives her in this scene are priceless).
In researching the role Shannon watched hours of interviews with Kuklinski, some of which were broadcast in documentary form by HBO (you can watch them here), and his physical portrayal of Kuklinski is spot on. The supporting cast is filled out by great performances from Ray Liotta as Roy DeMeo and Chris Evans as Robert ‘Mr. Freezy’ Pronge, another contract killer who uses an ice-cream truck to store his victims’ bodies.
This is definitely one of my favourite movies of this year. Check it out.