Genre : Biography/Crime
Country : USA
Michael Shannon : Richard Kuklinski
Winona Ryder : Deborah Pellicotta
Ray Liotta : Roy Demeo
Richard Kuklinski is working as a porn film lab tech until his mob bosses persuade him to change his career into that of a contract killer. For years, Kuklinski gains a reputation for cold blooded professionalism even as he raises a family who are kept in the dark about his true career. Unfortunately, mob politics ultimately forces him to secretly work independently with the psychopathic Robert ‘Mr. Freezy’ Pronge.
Once and a while I do like watching a raw mob movie like “The Godfather”. And when it’s based on true facts then this is really a special treat for me. Not that I have the ambition for a career change in my personal life 🙂
Although you can foresee what it is about (especially if you’ve already heard about Kuklinski) and the film is fairly limited in terms of content, I found this a damn excellent played film which captivated and intrigued me to the end. I have seen the interview of Kuklinski, but I didn’t think it was that interesting. I thought it was really just an assassin working for the Mafia. However, the film shows that besides the fact that this was his daily job, Kuklinski actually performed these murders also for pleasure and perhaps as a retaliation. An ice-cold killer with a deadly twist in his sick mind.
Actually, only the career of Kuklinski and the way he combined this with an apparently perfectly normal life as a family man to the outside world, is shown in this film. That is the only criticism I can come up with. It’s only limited to that issue.
The performances of Michael Shannon (Also played General Zod in “Man of Steel”) are truly extraordinary and admirable. He plays the cold-blooded psychopathic killer brilliant. First that imperturbable “Je mon fou” look and then turning into that cozy family man who looks in a loving way at his children. Terribly oppressive, terrifying and giving you the shivers. His natural stature helps him to create the image of an impressive Polish guy. It’s obvious that thanks to his acting, the movie is lifted up to a higher level. A brilliant moment and a clarification that Kuklinski doesn’t only kill people for a living, was the moment he asked James Franco to pray to God to see if He would come down to rescue him. Eventually he simply killed him. It was just a game for Kuklinski at that time and a clear and precise way to demonstrate his dominance. A face that never shows any emotion, except when things go differently than planned or the moments he feels insulted or indignant about someones actions. You can see the rage building up together with an inner gurgling growl . That’s the moment when the beast in him emerges. Breathtaking !
The supporting cast is also beautifully complemented. Winona Ryder as Kuklinski ‘s wife was irrefutably perfect for this role. The moments when she begins to realize that something is not right and the mood swings are getting worse, are played superbly. She also looks fragile and like an angel. Especially when Kuklinski takes her in his arms.
Ray Liotta was way better than in “Killing them softly”. His scarred face with those icy eyes make him perfect material to interpret a mob boss. Calculated and insensitive. The moment where he has to liquidate Rosenthal was magnificent played.And yes, David Schwimmer performed to my surprise as the Jewish Rosenthal. I didn’t recognize him immediately with that huge mustache and ponytail. But unfortunately he reminds me every time of Ross. The way he moves and the way he talks. Every time I expect him to talk with that slow depressed voice. But actually it didn’t bother me that much.Ventimiglia fitted just perfectly in this movie and despite the limited role Chris Evans delivered a meritorious contribution.
The content of the film was basically limited to the necessary things in Kuklinski’s life. His recruitment by Demeo and the dirty work he does for him. His family life that he tries to protect and to shield from the rest. And finally his arrest. And that was for me a downer. For example, they only used 10 seconds to shed a light on the youth of Kuklinski. He grew up in inhumane conditions bearing inexpressibly physical violence. This short fragment shows how he is terribly beaten by his father. I think it’s a missed opportunity they didn’t use that item more. The fact that Kuklinski grew up in a totally antisocial environment with parents who really didn’t give a damn about their children, partly ensured that Kuklinski degenerated into a violent person. Both his father and his religious mother regularly used physical violence. One of his brothers died cause of that. Afterwards he was even physically abused by nuns as an altar boy, and he was a victim of bullying. It was probably at this time that he has undergone a metamorphosis. Philip Carlo goes deeper in this matter in his biography of Richard Kuklinski “The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer” (I never read it , but I sure will now). Kuklinski apparently brutally killed one of the bullies with a club and got rid of him with deadly efficiency. Kuklinski claimed that he then realized that it was better to give the punches then to receive them. Apparently the part about the youth of Kuklinski leaves a big impression on the reader. Unfortunately this is completely omitted in the film .
Why wasn’t there also a broader explanation about the developments in his eventual arrest ? For how long were the feds watching him already ? Was it his panicky way of working at the end that finished him off ? Had he made a mistake in his paranoid mood? Which informants worked on the case ? How did they proceed to infiltrate Kuklinski ‘s world? And why wasn’t there a momentarily flash of this case in the courtroom ?
Despite these personal criticisms, I thought it was a very good movie. A story about the interwoven lives of both an ordinary family man and a ruthless serial killer with a conscience issue. An adaptation of a voluminous literary work can be problematic and it’s understandable there are fragments left out. Yet I had the feeling that it was still rushed through in a high gear. For me however, the final scene is sublime and shows the masterful performance of Shannon and the accuracy with which he has studied the beast Kuklinski and has portrayed him.
This film won’t leave you cold (appropriately) …
My rating 8 /10
Links : IMDB