‘The Iceman’ dares to explore the family life of one of the most notorious mob killers of all time.
From 1948 to 1986 the infamous mob hitman Richard Kuklinski claims to have murdered as many as 250 people, mostly in the greater New York area. Some of them for money, many just for fun. At the April 29 premiere of Millenium Entertainment’s drama about the killer’s life, The Iceman, hosted by Grey Goose, the question posed was this: can a savage murderer for hire also be a genuine family man?
James Franco‘s answer to that question might be a strong, maybe. The Oz The Great And Powerful actor makes a brief cameo as a small-time porn director who meets a swift but sadistic end at the hands of Kuklinski. Franco was initially slated to play a much larger role as another cold character, Kuklinski’s ice-cream truck driving accomplice, Mr. Freezy, but dropped out (replaced by an almost unrecognizable Chris Evans) because of disagreements that reportedly didn’t involve money.
Maybe James had a hard time swallowing the central premise of this film: that there really could be two sides to a man like Kuklinski.
Richard Kuklinski — Evil Killer & Family Man?
Kuklinski first gained national attention in 2003 after the airing of a chilling HBO documentary interview with renown forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz. In these interviews, the real Richard delights in his own legend as he brags about his countless impulse murders and contract killings.
The most spine tingling moment of the series comes as Dietz challenges Kuklinski on one of his most senseless acts of violence: the random slaying of three men he ran off the side of the road and then shot to death on a Georgia Highway. As the doctor presses Richard on whether these men deserved their death sentence, Kuklinski becomes so visibly angry his face begins to flush – and you realize, firsthand, for a man this evil, the smallest slight is all it takes to provoke a murderous rage.
By Kuklinski’s own account, his family was the only thing he ever loved or cared about, and the filmmakers of The Iceman have taken the convicted serial murderer serious on that claim. But of course, psychopaths like Kuklinski are also pathological liars. Depending on his mood, the real Kuklinski will claim only 100 murders. When he is feeling more boastful, that number more than doubles.
A better source for the man’s true nature might be Kuklinski’s real life wife who – though she says he never hurt their children – recalled he beat her so frequently her nose was broken on several occasions.
The Iceman does contain a scene where Kuklinski has a non-violent fit of road rage with his family buckled in and terrified, but that is nearly the extent of the portrayal of his home life missteps, until his arrest. It also paints Kuklinski as averse to killing women or children as a matter of principle – even going out of his way to save a young girl who witnesses him commit a murder.
‘The Iceman’s Most Artful Murder
The question of the nature of a psychopath is a difficult one for artists and normal human beings in general to wrap their minds around. Kuklinski – who died in prison under suspicious circumstances in 2006 – was a cold-blooded killer, but he was also dissarming in many ways that might have pushed the filmmakers to suspect there was something more to this violent sociopath. Most exemplary is a story the real Richard also memorably recounted to Dr. Dietz about a murder he committed at a night club. The 6’5,” 300 pound Kuklinski claimed he dressed up as a high-heeled disco queen in order to sneak close enough to a mob rival to deliver a fatal dose of cyanide via hypodermic needle. The story is so absurd as to be hilarious.
Though The Iceman doesn’t depict this incident exactly as Kuklinski claims it went down (probably to its credit) the film as a whole is well directed and acted and doesn’t flinch when showing the gory but likely true details of Kuklinski’s labor – most notably the workshop where he and Mr. Freezy get together to cut up and dispose of bodies that hang from the ceiling like slaughtered cattle.
These scenes and so many others have a sickeningly effective intensity, but what’s more difficult to stomach is the conceit that this monster was somehow tamed by the comforts of domestic life, rather than just wearing another elaborate disguise.