Michael Shannon has been making a career out of convincingly portraying mentally unbalanced characters for a while now. He was the irrationally angry, bipolar adult son of the neighbors in the '50s period drama “Revolutionary Road” (for which he received a best supporting actor nomination in 2009), the overzealous Treasury agent in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” the blue-collar family man tortured by visions real and imagined that seem to portend an apocalyptic climatological disaster in “Take Shelter” (2011) and the dirty cop with impulse control issues and a gambling addiction in “Premium Rush” (2012).
So, playing a loving husband and devoted father who is also a coldblooded killer is right down Shannon's dark alley. In the fact-based “The Iceman,” adapted by director Ariel Vromen (“Danika”) and Morgan Land from a book by Anthony Bruno, Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski, a guy from Jersey City, N.J., who starts out as a technician in a film lab specializing in porn in 1964 and works his way up through the mob ranks to become one of its top hit men for more than 20 years.
He meets a nice girl (Winona Ryder, looking almost as young and sweet as she did in “Heathers” 25 years ago) and tells her he dubs Disney cartoons for a living. They marry, have two little girls, and Kuklinski eventually makes enough money to buy the four-bedroom house in the suburbs his wife wants so badly. They send the girls to private schools. He later convinces his rather naive wife that he's lucked into lucrative connections in international banking as a way of explaining his handsome income.
It's the American dream come true. He genuinely loves his wife and kids, and several intimate domestic scenes with the Kuklinskis at home feel warm and genuine. Shannon really makes the audience want to root for this guy, despite many chilling scenes.
And then there's the tricky relationship he has with his vicious mob boss Roy, played with scary volatility by one of the best hard-case villains in the business, Ray Liotta.
This is one of the best crime thrillers to come along in recent times, made all the more gripping because it really happened, and Shannon is so arresting in the title role.
— Gene Triplett