He’s tall and imposing, if a bit aloof and hard to read. But that strange air of mystery—part Frankenstein's monster, part Invisible Man—suits Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) just fine since it gives him enough time to riddle you with bullets before you’ve had a chance to decide what you think of him. Here are the facts: He’s a cold-blooded killer who’s adopted into the New Jersey mafia after his porno-distributor gig goes under. He’s also a devoted family man with a wife (Winona Ryder) and two daughters who know nothing of his work as an underworld assassin. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s true. The real-life Kuklinski was credited with more than 200 murders between his 1940s adolescence and his eventual life-imprisonment in the 1980s, a period during which he earned the chilly moniker "The Iceman."
There’s a ruthlessly effective movie to be made from this material, and you couldn’t hope for a better performer than Shannon, who can turn on a dime between quiet malevolence and volcanic rage, to inhabit the sociopathic central figure. Unfortunately, this overproduced biopic constantly counteracts the actor’s committed efforts with its pale-imitation slickness. Cowriter-director Ariel Vromen seems to think he’s making a tragic gangster epic in the vein of Scorsese and Coppola. Yet the multiple instances of Cosa Nostra machismo ("Looks like God is busy," quips Kuklinski before offing a simpering mark), the appearances by mob-movie stalwarts like Ray Liotta and Robert Davi, and a distractingly overemphatic, Nino Rota–aping score by Haim Mazar all feel secondhand. This is a wise-guy opera with barely one memorable aria.
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