It seems startling to me that so few people recognize the name of actor Michael Shannon when they hear it.
Perhaps The Iceman will make the difference.
Shannon, after all, has an Oscar nomination under his belt (for Revolutionary Road). He has been the star of a handful of weird, moody independent films -- Bug and Take Shelter, to name two. And he's turned in some sterling supporting roles in The Runaways and Boardwalk Empire (and will play General Zod in the upcoming Man of Steel).
Still, he finds ways to surprise in The Iceman, based on the true story of the guy who may be the most prolific professional killer in organized-crime history. His name is Richard Kuklinski and, in this film by Ariel Vromen, he's just a Jersey guy, working in the lab bootlegging porno films for the Mob.
When he gets caught in the middle of a beef between his partner and the big boss, Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) and keeps his mouth shut, he winds up in a car with Demeo that could be a one-way ride. Instead, Demeo tests him, forcing him to take kill a homeless person on the street as both a test and insurance of loyalty. Then Demeo starts giving him work -- people who need to be whacked.
At the same time, Kuklinski has met a girl, a nice suburban type named Deborah (Winona Ryder), who he courts and ends up marrying. Before long, he's got a nice little home in the suburbs and a pair of growing daughters.
They think he works in currency trading. In fact, he regularly goes out on jobs to kill his boss' enemies. He has ice in his veins, even as he learns to puts his targets in freezers, to disguise the time of death. He's a psychopath without a conscience; he doesn't get a thrill from the killing but he feels no remorse or guilt. Outside of work, he's the picture of the contented family man.
He even develops a collegial relationship with another killer, Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans, all but unrecognizable in early 1970s' hair and facial growth), who teaches him the trick of putting the bodies in cold storage for a while before disposing of them. When Demeo gets mad that Kuklinski let an uninvolved witness go free, he sidelines the killer -- who then goes to work with Freezy doing work for New York crime families. That's a major no-no to Demeo, who considers Kuklinski his personal property.
This review continues on my website.