Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
May 16, 2013
**1/2 (out of four)
If nothing else, I’ll remember “The Iceman” as the movie that dared to cast David Schwimmer in a supporting role as a mustached, ponytailed killer. And the former Chicagoan handles himself just fine.
Otherwise, this true-life story of a bad man who almost never feels bad about what he does lingers in the middle ground between grungy entertainment and a biopic that doesn't illuminate its subject. In 1964 New Jersey, Richie (Michael Shannon, another former Chicagoan) seems like a charming-enough guy. He tells his date, Deborah (Winona Ryder), that she’s “a prettier version of Natalie Wood” and balances a spoon on his nose. Yeah, his description of his family is, “My sister and brother are out there somewhere, I guess,” but again, he balances a spoon on his nose! Gotta be a good guy.
Actually, he's someone who'd slit your throat for giving him lip and spent years upping his body count with assignments from crime boss Roy Demeo (“Goodfellas' " Ray Liotta, who knows about recruiting someone into the biz). “The Iceman” doesn’t need to over-explain how Richie kept his secret life secret while married to Deborah and raising their two daughters, but it seems safe to assume the hitman lifestyle would have a hitch or two that would wind up generating suspicion from the family. Whether it is lateness or blood on a shirt or something—director/co-writer Ariel Vromen should have identified how Richie worked under the radar for so long, not just from the authorities but from the only people in the world he cares about (who think he's in “currency exchange”).
It's not clear why Richie's love for his own family doesn't translate to any sympathy for other families, outside of his refusal to hurt women and children. He kills because he's good at it and needs the money, and the moral consideration pretty much ends there. Snippets of backstory add little.
Still, “The Iceman" resists deriving fun from murder like “Pain and Gain,” and few actors do the menacing stare like Shannon. “The Iceman” thrives on that scowl, from the cold, flinchless gaze when Roy first puts a gun in his face to his fearless work with his unexpected partner Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans). That Richie's temper eventually bubbles over unsettles less than his chilling, short-term patience when Marty (James Franco in a surprising, one-scene part) prays for his life. “You think God will come down and save you?” Richie asks, willing to wait and see. Take a guess who wins that bet.
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