Three years ago, Jennifer Lawrence announced herself on the scene via what is still the most impressive role of her career (i.e., Winter’s Bone). This past February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences finally caught up, awarding Lawrence a Best Actress Oscar, albeit for a role in The Silver Linings Playbook at least a dozen other actresses could’ve played.
One can only imagine Michael Shannon is destined for a similar fate. After a remarkable string of roles in films like Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter, and Return, Shannon has still only yielded one major Oscar nom. Keep in mind, this is a guy who can do more with a subtle twitch than most actors can do with a tirade. He has absolutely mastered the subtle art of remaining set and still – a skill that has not only served Shannon well throughout his career, but also represents the key to his brilliant turn as (contract killer) Richard Kuklinski in Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman.
Those familiar with Kuklinski by way of a pair of HBO documentaries know him to be a calculated – very often even charismatic – individual. There are early seeds of Tony Soprano here, including the ongoing lack of remorse, the misguided family values, the inscrutable sense of sarcasm, and the suburban stronghold in North Jersey. Kuklinski represents that rare homicidal beast who actually lives up to all the billing. He killed … for money, perhaps more than 100 times. And he did so with unrivaled skill and efficiency, mastering every aspect of the process to avoid arrest, incarceration, or even suspicion for the better part of three decades.
True to form, The Iceman is a grisly film with very little in the way of comic relief. In certain respects, it’s reminiscent of 2011’s Kill The Irishman (i.e., an independent character study of a lesser-known underworld figure who stood alone against the mob). Only the central plot here is worlds more severe and unforgiving, bypassing any hope of latter sunshine through the rain.
The supporting cast includes Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, and an almost unrecognizable David Schwimmer. But the real story here is Michael Shannon, who nails every aspect of Kuklinski right down to the awkward lumber. His performance is a spot-on reminder that we are all human beings wrought with contradiction, and even the worst of us come fully capable of compassion. With any luck, The Iceman may even earn Shannon his second Oscar nomination … that is if the Academy doesn’t see fit to nominate him for his role as General Zod instead.
(The Iceman opens in limited release today, with plans for a national rollout to follow.)