In the 1960s, 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. As much as Kuklinski tries to keep his lives separate, circumstances and his own weaknesses threaten a terrible collision as the consequences of his choices finally catch up to him. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
Greetings again from the darkness. Dramatizations are at their best when actual footage of the subject or event doesn't exist. They can be an effective way to highlight a particularly interesting story or person with details we might not otherwise access. Richard Kuklinski's story is fascinating and frightening. He is known as the mob's most prolific hit-man/contract killer. Writer/director Arial Vromen has adapted Anthony Bruno's novel for the screen, and wisely cast Michael Shannon in the lead. It makes a nice companion piece to the chilling 1992 documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer.
The movie is dominated by the hulking presence of Shannon as Richard Kuklinski. Shannon is no match for the physical size of Kuklinski, but his movements and the camera angles capture the powerful and imposing monster that he was. If you are unfamiliar with Kuklinski's story, he killed somewhere between 100-250 people. His missions were carried forth in cold-blooded, heartless and widely disparate manners. Additionally, he often dismembered his victims and froze bodies and parts to prevent the actual time of death from being established. He was good at his job, but hardly a good guy. But wait! Not so fast ...
Kuklinski was also a husband a father of two daughters who made up what appeared to be a lovely, normal family in suburban New Jersey. This guy had an internal switch he flipped from the street to the dining room table. When he was captured, his wife and daughter claimed they had no clue what he did for a living (he had told them he was in Finance). Sure, they admitted to his having a wild temper and even threatening his wife a few times, but they never once considered that he was a cold-blooded killer by day and neighborly barbecue dad on weekends.
Winona Ryder plays Deborah, Kuklinski's wife. Before you roll your eyes, you should know that Ryder is exceptional in the role. Her tease in Black Swan gave us hope she had returned to form, but this turn displays the talent we always knew was there. The always dependable and creepy Ray Liotta is perfectly cast as Roy Demeo, the mobster for whom Kuklinski worked. The scenes with Shannon and Liotta together are bone-chillingly frightening. Chris Evans (light years from Captain America) plays fellow hit-man Robert Prongay aka Mr Freezy. Kuklinski credits Prongay with valuable insight into poison and disposal of bodies. It's heart-warming to see that even contract killers have support groups. Other support work comes courtesy of David Schwimmer as Josh (Demeo's right hand man), Robert Davi (as Leonard Marks. Demeo's link to the family head), James Franco (as one of the hits), and Stephen Dorff as Kuklinski's incarcerated brother Joey.
Childhood flashbacks give us the table-setting necessary to understand the balance of nature v nurture in the Kuklinski household. Still, no matter how much abuse or misery one has a child, it's difficult to comprehend the stoic evil that possessed Kuklinski. And to be clear, Michael Shannon's performance is his best yet ... and that is saying a great deal. He has become one of the most interesting actors - one who can take the lead as he does here and in Take Shelter, or as a scene-stealing supporter in Revolutionary Road, Mud and the upcoming Man of Steel (as General Zod). He's not a flashy actor, just an extremely talented one.
Vromen captures the gritty feel of the nearly three decades of "family" life in a manner that reminds of Kill the Irishmen ... the Ray Stevenson take on Danny Greene. The atmosphere and inner turmoil are similar, but there is no comparison the Kuklinski evil. Should you doubt this, I would highly recommend the documentary previously mentioned. Watching the actual dead eyes of the real Richard Kuklinski as he talks about his life is beyond horrifying.
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