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Film / The Iceman

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A 2012 docudrama detailing the life and crimes of Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon), a New Jersey family man with a secret life as a hitman for the Mob in The '70s. His nickname came from both his nerves of steel and one of his kill techniques: freezing corpses for several months to disguise the time of death. Winona Ryder plays his unsuspecting wife Deborah, Ray Liotta is Roy DeMeo, the mid-level boss who recruits Kuklinski, and Chris Evans is rival shooter and occasional partner Robert "Mr. Freezy" Pronge.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Kuklinski's wife Barbara is renamed Deborah.
    • Robert Pronge is nicknamed "Mr. Freezy" instead of "Mr. Softee."
  • Affably Evil: Kuklinski and Roy, who wants his driver to respect his heritage and gives quarters to homeless men before ordering them killed.
  • American Accents: Joisey subdivision.
  • The Atoner: At the end, Kuklinski only expresses remorse for the fact that he let down his wife and daughters.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Kuklinski once he starts becoming successful as a hitman, especially in comparison to Pronge.
  • Bad Humor Truck: Pronge works out of one, hence his nickname "Mr. Freezy."
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: The film is based on Kuklinksi's prison confessions made after he was already serving a life sentence. There is little actual evidence that verifies any of Kuklinski's tall tales; he was accused of Forrest Gump syndrome - inserting himself into famous mob hits that actually had nothing to do with him.note  It is much more likely that he was a simple psychopath who liked attention rather than the legendary assassin he claimed to have been.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Kuklinski seems like a nice, quiet, overall sober man at first. Then we quickly discover that he's a cold-blooded killer prone to homicidal fits of anger.
  • Berserk Button: Do not insult Kuklinski's family. Threatening them is an even worse idea.
  • Big Bad: Roy Demeo, the mob boss who initially hired Kuklinski and ends up opposing him by film's end.
  • Bookends: The film begins and ends with Kuklinski in his jail cell.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Pronge.
  • Corpse Temperature Tampering: Kuklinski's nickname came from both his nerves of steel and one of his kill techniques: freezing corpses for several months to disguise the time of death.
  • Death Glare: Deborah shoots her husband one during his trial.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Kuklinski kills a man for insulting him in a pool hall argument, and another Mafia boss hires Kuklinski to kill one of Roy's men just for manhandling him.
  • Dissonant Serenity: What first attracts Roy's attention to Kuklinski is his calm response to being threatened, so he dubs him "The Iceman".
  • Downer Ending: After being arrested for his crimes, Kuklinski is abandoned by his family and sentenced to two life sentences, wracked with guilt. He decides to turn state witness on a Gambino family underboss, but dies in prison days before he can, with foul play being suspected.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Both Kuklinski and Pronge have families that love them.
    • Roy is apparently A Father to His Men and is deeply upset when his Co-Dragons end up dead, especially since he's forced to shoot the one he considered to be like family to him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Kuklinski refuses to kill a 17 year old girl who saw him commit a murder. He co-conspirators are not so hampered.
    • Comes up again later when Pronge tries to make a deal with Kuklinski to murder each other's families so that the mob and the authorities can't use them against them. Needless to say, Kuklinski doesn't take the deal and kills Pronge not a minute after he suggests it.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Pronge is generally casual, sells ice cream to kids, and doesn't mind using a job at a club as a chance to cut up the dance floor. He's also the single most ruthless and murderous character in the film.
    • Kuklinski's brother Joseph is pretty jovial and seems happy to be an uncle, but is in jail for raping and killing a little girl.
  • Graceful Loser: Kuklinski manages to say "Good job" when he realizes that Dominick set him up on a sting.
  • He Knows Too Much: Kuklinski starts killing his friends for this reason. Except the one friend who sets him up with an undercover police officer.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: Played with. Chris Evans has an edge over the real life Robert Pronge, but spends all but his last scene poorly dressed and groomed.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The movie portrays Kuklinski as a ruthless Mafia hitman who kills dozens of people. In reality, he was a relatively obscure criminal who killed a few drug and porn dealers (his usual modus operandi was to set up a phony business deal, then kill the guy and take his cash) and later killed two members of his burglary gang when the law started to close in. His fanciful jailhouse confessions, such as his claim to have kidnapped and murdered Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, are not taken seriously by law enforcement or mob experts.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: That said, the movie gives him a much more sympathetic relationship with his family. While he put them through a lot of grief, they are portrayed to be the thing he cared most about in his life. In real life, though he did go through periods of being a loving father and husband, he was also prone to fits of anger that led to both physical and mental abuse towards his wife and children respectively.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Kuklinski shooting Pronge in a public park.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Deborah, in hindsight, although there are plenty of clues along the way that Kuklinski is no angel.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Roy tests Kuklinski's ability to be a Professional Killer by having him kill a random street bum.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Pronge mentions that he knows where Kuklinski lives, even though Richard never told him. It virtually seals his fate.
  • Leave No Witnesses:
    • After Kuklinski kills a pornographer, he finds a seventeen-year old girl hiding in his closet. He hauls her out onto the street and it's at that point he meets fellow hitman "Mr Freezy" Pronge for the first time, who tries to run her down with his ice cream truck. Kuklinski makes Pronge cease his pursuit at gunpoint, but when the two hitmen team up later on, the first thing Pronge shows him is the girl's body, which he has kept frozen for later disposal.
    • Ironically, Kuklinski himself is implied to have been a victim of this. A paragraph in the credits suggests he was killed to prevent him testifying against a Mafia underboss.
  • The Mafia
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Kuklinski and Pronge use pure cyanide to simulate the effects of a heart attack.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Kuklinski and a lot of the people he deals with typically take this attitude.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Kuklinski. Compounded by the fact that he's played by Michael Shannon.
  • No Social Skills: Kuklinski's first date with future wife Deborah is full of this.
  • Overcrank: Kuklinski's arrest in front of his wife. He's subdued by a dozen cops as she's bundled into a squad car. Includes a Long Last Look between them.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Psycho for Hire: Kuklinski and Pronge.
  • Serial Killer: Again, Kuklinski and Pronge. Neither man has qualms about killing, dismembering and freezing countless people. The film suggests that, if they weren't doing it for the mob, both men would be killing people for some other reason.
  • The Sociopath: Kuklinski, but even more so with Pronge, who goes out of his way to murder a 17-year old girl and casually offers to kill his partner's wife and children on the condition that he kills his family in return.
  • Softspoken Sadist: Kuklinski notices that the pornographer he's about to kill looks like he's praying. So he decides to delay killing him for a minute to mock his belief that God will save him, even giving him time to pray to God for help. When nothing happens, Kuklinski coldly shoots him.
    Richard Kuklinski: Looks like God's busy.
  • "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: Pronge suggests this to Kuklinski, proposing that they kill each others families to avoid suspicion and tie up loose ends. Kuklinski just kills him instead.
  • Title Drop: Kuklinski gets his nickname when DeMeo sticks a gun in his face - and he doesn't flinch.
    "Man, you're cold as ice..."
    • Doubles as a Stealth Pun when you consider that Kuklinski "ices" his targets.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Kuklinski. Frequently.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The movie is very loosely based on Anthony Bruno's book Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer. But that book was itself based on Kuklinski's own recollections, and he was a notoriously Unreliable Narrator. Even Bruno said he didn't believe a lot of the things Kuklinski told him. So it's debatable how much of the movie has any basis in fact.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: Pronge lets slip that he knows where Kuklinski lives. Big mistake.
  • Villain Protagonist: Richard Kuklinski, a hitman who killed over 100 people over the course of his career.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Kuklinski and Pronge. They begin as rivals, then become partners, then...well, see Final Solution.
    • Pronge argues that, since he's German/Irish and Kuklinski is Polish, they'll never be accepted by the Italian mob and might as well partner up.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Halfway through the film, DeMeo orders Kuklinski to halt his contract work - and Kuklinski panics at the idea of losing his main source of income.