The Iceman by Ariel Vromen

The Iceman (film)

The Iceman by Ariel Vromen

The true story of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious contract killer and family man, who has claimed of killing over a hundred victims.

The cast gives good performances. Michael Shannon brings gravitas to the Iceman. It’s impressive how much life he’s breathed into a role that is so oblique and intimidating. The audience never really knows what is going on inside his head, but a threatening violence is communicated underneath his dead calm demeanor. It’s an engaging scary performance. Winona Ryder is good in the role of Kuklinski’s wife Deborah but the potential of the role isn’t explored to the fullest. The real-life Kuklinski did hit his wife and broke her nose several times. Unfortunately for Ryder, it is not explored in the film. Kuklinski’s wife in the film suspects something is wrong but is scared to pry, which is contrary to her real-life counterpart had no idea what was going on at all. This was all probably changed to create more character likability for Kuklinski, more on that later. Chris Evans gets to transform and do some character acting as the Iceman’s assassin partner Mr. Freezy. Evan seems to be reveling in this part, it’s probably a breath of fresh air from having doing the recent Marvel films. James Franco also shows up in a fun cameo role.

The story, however, fails to rise above the sum of its parts. One particular aspect of dramatic filmmaking is for the story to be compelling, the audience generally has to empathize and root for its protagonist. It’s hard to feel that for Richard Kuklinksi because he is fully aware of his actions. Kuklinksi was an effective killer from his lack of compassion for people. He gave zero thought to murder and that’s what made him scary. But director Ariel Vromen tries to insert the idea that Kuklinski had empathy and struggled with balancing his antisocial behavior with the safety of his family. This is only touched upon and never fully explored. But perhaps there was nothing behind the real Iceman’s psychosis, maybe he just did not have empathy. The truth is Vromen doesn’t know more than we do and the film is only working on pure speculation. . So it is soft pedaling solely for dramatic purposes, Vromen should have just taken narrative liberties and just fully presented his own take of what happened.

Perhaps it’s not even Vromen’s fault, dramatic film was probably not the proper format for this story. I recommend everybody see the 1992 HBO documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer. Watching Richard Kuklinski recount his own story was a much more compelling and shocking experience. The Iceman, by comparison, seems relatively watered down and this isn’t a story that should be toned down.

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Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo

Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo

Miss Bala tells the story of Laura Guerrero (played by Stephanie Sigman), who dreams of becoming a beauty contest queen in a Mexico dominated by organized crime.

I am not familiar with what life is like in Mexico, so it was very interesting to follow Laura as she is taken through the inner world of the Mexican drug cartels. There are some very cruel moments of violence and I found myself scared for this girl the whole time. Not to sound distasteful, but I was really scared that she was going to be raped. Any time a gangster with a machine gun comes up to Laura, I was thinking, “He can totally do it right now. There’s nothing stopping him!” When she’s not being threatened sexually, it was the possibility of her being shot to death. There are a few long take sequences in the film where Laura dodging crossfire in gun battle that puts you in the moment. We see how the violence and the corruption eventually weighs down on this girl, eventually corrupts her dream and sucks the living soul out of her.

However, Miss Bala commits the sin of choosing its message over its protagonist in its third act. Laura becomes progressively passive and ends up being an inactive character who simply observes and obeys the orders she’s given by the gangsters. Stephanie Sigman is a competent lead actress and carries the film but her character has no motivation from that point onwards. It builds to an open ending that I thought was too “open” for its own good. The film wants to present Laura as an innocent victim caught in the middle of all this turmoil, but I still think the victim angle can still be clear with her actively trying to accomplish a goal. It’s as if director Gerardo Naranjo thought it would be too much and settled on his presenting his message but the audience definitely was hungry for that extra mile. I’m sure that wasn’t Naranjo’s goal. That said, Miss Bala still gripped me for the first two thirds.

It’s a nice piece of “issue-tainment” nonetheless.