This hitman flick features a fantastic cast but could use more warmth.
Ariel Vromen’s (Danika) film is based on the true story of serial killer turned mob hitman Richard Kuklinski. What’s so interesting about his story isn’t that he claimed to kill somewhere between 100 and 200 people, but that those closest to him had no idea who he really was or what he did. He’s portrayed excellently by Michael Shannon (already known for something of an Iceman himself) and the cast around him are uniformly great as well. Even with such solid talent on screen and a story rife with tension, Vromen glosses over the psychological aspects, instead hitting all the plot beats which, without much buildup, never quite work.
Shannon’s turn as Kuklinski is, possibly, the quintessential role for him. Since his breakout as a mentally ill man in Revolutionary Road, he’s been unfairly (if still thrillingly) typecast in similar roles, or as a villain, like in the upcoming Superman reboot. Kuklinski is not only a villain, in the real sense of the word, he’s also quite mentally disturbed. He’s a man of little emotion, which is right up Shannon’s wheelhouse. Shannon is an actor who can say more with his eyes than many can with their words, and it doesn’t help that he has such a distinctive and, honestly, terrifying face. Winona Ryder plays his naive, innocent wife Deborah and both complement each other well. Deborah brings out the soft side in Kuklinski, a side which many would assume doesn’t exist. But it does, and it’s these sides that are at war within Shannon. What’s unfortunate is that Vromen isn’t quite able to capture it as well as he should have.
It may be that the films 90 minute running length just isn’t enough time to really flesh out the story. It spans nearly four decades of Kuklinski’s rise and, yes, eventual downfall. Along the way he links up with kingpin Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta, an always welcome cast member) and another hitman Robert Pronge (Chris Evans), AKA Mr. Softee due to his alibi as an ice cream truck driver. It even boasts some great cameos, most notably James Franco in a single scene as a Kuklinski victim, Stephen Dorff as Kuklinski’s incarcerated brother and a hilarious yet pathetic turn from David Schwimmer as Josh Rosenthal, complete with goofy mustache and ponytail, as one of DeMeo’s henchman. Yet, even with all of this talent the film breezes by refusing to ever really go below the surface.
Kuklinski and his story are both fascinating and while Vromen touches upon the possible reasons for his detachment from humanity, it’s never actually explored. What’s left is an interesting, yet unsatisfyingly bland tale of a hitman littered with great talent. That alone makes it worth a viewing but it’s a squandered attempt to create something truly haunting and lasting. Instead it settles for a mildly entertaining indie thriller. One that’s been made hundreds of times before.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5