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The Iceman Blu-ray Review

The Iceman (2013) movie poster The Iceman

Theatrical Release: May 3, 2013 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Ariel Vromen / Writers: Morgan Land, Ariel Vromen (screenplay); Anthony Bruno (fictional book The Iceman: The True Story of A Cold Blooded Killer), James Thebaut (documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer)

Cast: Michael Shannon (Richard Kuklinski), Winona Ryder (Deborah Pellicotti), Chris Evans (Robert "Mr. Freezy" Pronge), Ray Liotta (Roy Demeo), David Schwimmer (Josh Rosenthal), Danny Abeckaser (Dino Lapron), John Ventimiglia (Mickey Scicoli), Ryan O'Nan (Terry Franzo), McKaley Miller (Anabel Kuklinski), Megan Sherrill (Betsy Kuklinski), James Franco (Marty Freeman), Stephen Dorff (Joey Kuklinski), Hector Hank (Tender Bar Earl), Robert Davi (Leonardo "Leo" Marks), Zoran Radanovich (Jimmy), Erin Cummings (Ellen), Ashlynn Ross (Alex), Weronika Rosati (Livi), Christa Campbell (Adele), Jay Giannone (Dominick Provenzano), Freddy Bosche (Detective Beaumont), Jimmy Lee, Jr. (Homeless Man)

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No one in film today plays the creep as well as Michael Shannon, a fact he seems determined to remind us of every few months. In The Iceman, he portrays Richard Kuklinski, a man believed to have murdered more than one hundred people over a period of twenty years.
Shannon, who's drawn some recent mainstream attention for villainous turns in Man of Steel and Premium Rush but has indie credibility extending much further, is the perfect choice to play a stone-cold killing machine who is simultaneously devoted to providing for his family. That's the first and biggest piece of this extraordinarily-cast puzzle.

We meet Ritchie on a 1964 date with Deborah (Winona Ryder), the woman who is to become his wife. The conversation is pained, but Ritchie wins her over by calling her "a prettier version of Natalie Wood." He also claims he dubs Disney cartoons for a living, which is true if by "Disney cartoons" he means "pornographic movies." Ritchie is out of a job when the New Jersey business' feared owner Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) decides to close down the film lab. But Roy offers Ritchie a job as a hitman, testing his grit by having him spontaneously off a drug-addled bum. It's the second of many murders we see Ritchie commit.

Before his wife (Winona Ryder), contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) reads a poem he wrote for his daughter's sixteenth birthday in "The Iceman."

Ritchie keeps Deborah and their two daughters entirely in the dark, telling them he's making his money in currency exchange, an occupation that's good enough to buy them a house in the suburbs and the girls a private school education. In reality, though, Ritchie is collecting debts and dispensing street justice to those Roy assigns him.

Polish Catholic Ritchie operates by a fairly common tough guy code: he doesn't kill women or children. That policy gets him decommissioned by Roy, after he learns Ritchie let a teenaged witness escape.

Not suited for unemployment, Ritchie teams up with Robert Pronge (Chris Evans), nickname: Mr. Freezy, a sleazy man who sells ice cream to children from the same freezer he's keeping his victims. The two form a partnership, splitting the proceeds of their contracts down the middle, with Freezy making the arrangements and Ritchie performing the hits. Their kills become more sophisticated with the use of such tools as a lethal cyanide spray you can pass off as a sneeze. The two men chop up their victims and keep them in cold storage, a system that evidently eludes any kind of law enforcement suspicion while later inspiring Ritchie's titular nickname.

When Roy gets wind of this new venture, Ritchie finds it difficult to remain employable while keeping his family safe.

You might not recognize Chris Evans as hitman/ice cream man Robert Pronge, nicknamed "Mr. Freezy." Kuklinski has to answer to Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta), his ruthless boss.

The Iceman is the third American feature film from Israeli-born director Ariel Vromen. His first two (Rx and Danika) were 7-8 years ago and not very well-received, but he's somehow managed to attract a cast that's big on in-demand talent.
The film rewards risks, giving these seasoned actors strong material to prove, or remind us of, their chops.

While Liotta seems to play an intimidating mobster ten times a year, his castmates offer some pretty profound revelations. Chris Evans, unquestionable as an all-American superhero type, shows range with some help from period hairstyling. That component also helps Shannon, who conveys the passage of time with fashionably evolving facial hair and receding hairline, and David Schwimmer, who manages to appear without a proper introduction and blend in as a serious criminal. Sporting thick mutton chops, a mustache, and ponytail, Schwimmer makes it difficult for you to think of the New York paleontologist he's best known for playing. The film saves some juicy roles for Ryder (who as the naive wife finally gets a taste of what she missed by backing out of The Godfather Part III) and veteran heavy Robert Davi (The Goonies). Even James Franco, who was originally attached to play the ice cream man, appears in a cameo the cover over-advertises.

Despite the subject matter, The Iceman proves refreshingly uninterested in shocking you with gory, cold-blooded murders. It also avoids manipulation, refraining from giving Kuklinski either complete demonization or a too sympathetic portrayal. The protagonist is both an unflinching assassin and a genuinely proud father, a contradiction that compels even if you cringe at violence and crime dramas. That is no small accomplishment of the screenplay, which Vromen and his Rx co-scribe Morgan Land adapted from a 1992 HBO documentary and Anthony Bruno's 1993 biography.

Vromen's film recalls Monster, the 2003 serial killer biopic that won Charlize Theron an Academy Award. Like that, this one is darkly funny at times. It even features a scene of roller-skating to an iconic late-'70s anthem. And like Monster, The Iceman manages to not abuse its indie status for graphic sensationalist violence or over-the-top discomfort. The material here is stronger than that, engaging with more timeless themes and iconic characters.

Closing with a domestic sum just under $2 million, The Iceman became the second highest-grossing film in the 3-year history of Millennium Entertainment, who also gave it their second biggest expansion to date (a still modest 250-theater count). Far short of generating profit on this film's $10 M budget, that's nonetheless slightly better than what Shannon's last indie solo vehicle, the highly acclaimed Take Shelter, did in the fall of 2011. The Iceman hits DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, where its high-profile cast should help win it some notice, a theory that each edition's current three-figure Amazon sales ranks supports.

The Iceman Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($28.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Iceman belongs to the shrinking class of films exhibited in 1.85:1, which the Blu-ray rounds to 1.78:1. That screen-filling ratio gives us crystal clear looks at the film's admirable 1960s and '70s period recreation. The sharp picture also nicely showcases Vromen's considerable directorial flair, marked by striking compositions and a stylized color palette alternately dark and golden. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack equally satisfies, giving dialogue appropriate weight and clarity while also capably distributing Haim Mazar's fittingly understated score.

Without his period facial hair, Michael Shannon speaks as his normal, completely reassuring self in his interview from "The Making of 'The Iceman.'" Ariel Vromen directs Winona Ryder in "'The Iceman': Behind the Scenes."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The first of the Blu-ray's two main (sadly standard definition) extras is "The Making of The Iceman" (29:35). Not unusual for an indie film, this piece takes the lazy,

amateurish approach of simply serving up cast and crew interviews with minimal editing. We hear at length from director Ariel Vromen, who discusses his attraction to the subject and casting the film; producer Ehud Bleiberg, who speaks further on casting and defends the film's design; Michael Shannon, who touches on the real Kuklinski, his co-stars, and the role of facial hair and costumes; Winona Ryder, who comments on her clothes, working with Shannon and their onscreen daughters, and being able to live in denial; and Chris Evans, who explains the character was originally called Mister Softee but that must not have cleared legally.

"The Iceman: Behind the Scenes" (8:12) is a more typical and digestible featurette. It shares a tiny bit of B-roll from production along with a sampling of remarks from the previously featured sessions.

A "Previews" section adds The Iceman's theatrical trailer (2:28, HD) to the disc-opening HD ones for Upside Down, Stuck in Love, What Maisie Knew, and Killing Season.

It's too bad that Millennium couldn't have licensed the HBO documentary that inspired the film, as its 2004 DVD has been out of print for some time.

The menu uses a moody montage of Iceman clips, which sometimes share the screen. Unfortunately, the disc doesn't support bookmarks or resume playback.

The keepcase holds no inserts, but is topped by a slipcover reproducing the artwork below while embossing the film's title.

"The Iceman" stars Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski, loving father, devoted husband, and stone-cold killer.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Iceman offers a fascinating portrait of a deadly criminal with two contradictory lives. Ariel Vromen's film impresses with visual flair, meticulous period production design, and strong performances from the well-assembled cast led by a frighteningly (yet expectedly) effective Michael Shannon. While films about real murderers are an iffy proposition, this one acquits itself nicely as a sharp and gripping drama.

Millennium's Blu-ray will leave some wanting deleted scenes and audio commentary, but it offers a stellar feature presentation and some decent making-of content. On a movie this strong, that's enough to recommend checking out this disc.

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Michael Shannon: Take Shelter My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done Premium Rush Revolutionary Road The Runaways
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Ray Liotta: Killing Them Softly The Details Pawn All Things Fall Apart Date Night | James Franco: 127 Hours
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Reviewed August 29, 2013.



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