On The Edge Films

Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds

The Iceman

2012/ USA

Director: Ariel Vromen

Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, James Franco

Say with me here, I do get to The Iceman eventually.

Pretty much every popular TV show at the moment centres around a male anti-hero. Whether it be Walter White, Rick Grimes or NBC’s up and coming cult series based around Hannibal; just to name a few. One major component of moving image is the manipulation of time and space. TV has understood this and uses its copious amounts of time and space to fully explore the decline into darkness of its male leads. Breaking Bad was constantly ringing in my ears during the film. Its two main characters having to spend a whole episode hunting down a fly in order to work through their relationship shows lovely, drawn out character development. Unfortunately though, I didn’t feel The Iceman quite got to grips with this idea.

Because of the hours spent in front of smaller screens watching every aspect of TV’s bad boys making all their decisions, we get to know them. We understand why they do the things they do, even if we know they should be doing something different (see: Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm). The Iceman lives or dies on us caring about Michael Shannon’s character and his conflict between family and his immoral job *cough* Mr. White *cough*. The paint by numbers scenes only show Richie Kuklinski as distant and troubled. He obviously cares for his family and only wants to support them but there’s never enough evidence of this other than us knowing that’s what we’re supposed to be thinking (if you see what I mean). This is by no means at the fault of Shannon. I genuinely think most of the actors do a pretty good job of their role (exception that proves the rule: Ross Geller?!?!?!?!?1), but the movie just doesn’t hold up around them. The lack of humour makes the seriousness a bit unfounded, and when there is something funny THE PLOT’S PUNISHED FOR IT.

Other gangster films (has to be compared to Goodfellas somewhat) have lots of characters that we aren’t forced to get to know, with a large amount of smaller parts as well. With these films though, we know the actors connections and relationships from other similar films, so can accept their characters (and their characters behaviours) much deeper and quicker despite this being a plus or minus. The Iceman’s cast seem awkward with one another. It’s interesting to hear interviews with Shannon talking about working with Liotta. Sounds like they were really psyching each other out. “He’s very cagey, he doesn’t really reveal what’s going on in his head very often and he’ll do things that are very surprising during takes. I think he really makes a conscious effort to keep you off balance. He’s a tough costumer.”. Does seem a slight shame they had to follow the true story. It seems that this relationship was the obvious story strand to follow.

These other gangster movies also have such powerful smells and textures from camera work, soundtrack and general LIFE that exists in them. For me, The Iceman did really lack these dusty, cigarette lighter sparks, greasy gangster hair; that smell of worn leather and the cold plates of food now full of ash and butts still sitting on the restaurant tables after hours of swapping stories and emptying Marlboro packets. The ‘dirt under the finger nails’. The unemotional approach may have been attempt to get the cold, cleanliness of Shannon’s character, I get that, but it did just feel like one of those damn Netflix movies. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Remember, our connection with the movie centres around understanding The ‘Iceman‘. That didn’t really happen. (Also, just found out much of the cut-aways and other key footage was shot on a Canon 7D DSLR camera which somewhat explains the lack of colouring and that flat, shallow focus look that one expects from current Netflix (flicks). [Aware we’re going into a rant, but one last thing]. The music was faaaaar too leading. Films like this should have some more balls to keep people interested. You knew what was going to happen (because the dialogue and music told you so), then the next scene did just that.

Here are a few up-points to balance things out a little: Ray Liotta (Henry Hill himself), the ONE much needed humorous moment and, you could see there was a powerful Shannon performance in there somewhere (do hope Marty S gets hold of Mickey S before he pops his clogs); and Ross’s ‘tashe…. in fact all the ‘tashes. (didn’t Ross have a ‘tashe in a Friends ’80s flashback. I enjoyed the fact the film kind of played with David Schwimmer’s background, “Put pathetic Ross in a gangster film, that’d be funny.”

It felt like the movie was dealing very carefully with someone’s real life. Avoiding what may lie under the surface because the man himself was so cold. The Place Beyond The Pines (my first contribution) seems like a strange parallel to this, The Iceman lacked TPBTP’s gut. Oh and Winona Ryder was not good, not at all. Like Lorraine Bracco is way better than you, stop trying to do Karen, seriously, no.

All in all, a better watch than most other movies around. If you want to go to the cinema and aren’t sure on what to see, then it’s worth a watch. But I wouldn’t go out of your way for it. This whole review is about ‘other things’ and that’s exactly what I was thinking about whilst watching The Iceman; ‘other things’.

P.S. I need to stop talking about Scorsese.

-Sam Taylor

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