Early in The Iceman, crime boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) calls contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) “cold as ice.” No one would argue that Kuklinski’s murderous proclivities emanate from the archetypal nether regions of Pluto, locked in the depths of the coldest element, earth.
But what truly mesmerizes in director Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman is Shannon’s depiction of Kuklinski’s compartmentalization, a function of the organizational and practical genius of Saturn, ruler of the last earth sign Capricorn.
The film introduces Kuklinski as a reclusive, taciturn guy from New Jersey in the mid-60s, when he becomes a bootlegger of porno movies – another Pluto activity – and begins courting Deborah Pellicotti (Winona Ryder). He tells her, “You’re a prettier version of Natalie Wood.” He eventually marries her, has two daughters, and reveres his family. “I like the way you take care of me,” says Deborah.
On the other hand, he easily slits the throat of a guy reluctant to pay off a debt, and begins an association with DeMeo, proving his loyalty by killing a homeless man. When faced with rubbing out Marty (James Franco), Kuklinski says, “I’m not feeling anything at all,” attesting to his efficiency at splitting off parts of his consciousness and separating out his activities. Gender figures into his mental filing cabinet, too. “I don’t kill women and children, I’ve got to keep my reputation,” he says, holding true to another trait of career-climbing Saturn, even as it applies to assassin-type CEOs.
Twenty years later, when his daughters are teens, Kuklinski, who reportedly killed more than a hundred people in his lifetime, starts fraying at the edges. Deborah, well aware of her husband’s increasingly hot-tempered flare-ups, does a fair bit of compartmentalization of her own.
Other than hurting his family, from whom he does seek forgiveness, by the movie’s end Kuklinski claims he regrets nothing else. Square-jawed Shannon ably portrays a monster capable of living life as though it were a two-columned spreadsheet marked love of family and killing, with neither activity intruding on the other.
Astrology Film Rating: ♄ (Saturn)