Contract killing in 1970s America and violent criminality in gangland Russia: Tom Leins presides over a ‘true crime’ double-act in this week’s DVD round-up.
The Iceman (Lionsgate) tells the true story of Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon, Take Shelter), the notorious contract killer who is believed to have murdered over a hundred people while maintaining a seemingly normal suburban existence with his doting wife and children. After convincing wife Deborah (Winona Ryder, A Scanner Darkly) that he works for Disney, when in fact he produces pornographic videos, Polish-American Kuklinski improbably finds himself on the payroll of local mobster Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta, The Place Beyond The Pines) as an enforcer. A man with a pronounced violent streak, Kuklinski quickly warms to his new role, and manages to maintain a distance between his professional and personal lives as the bodycount increases -at least until he over-steps the mark…
Michael Shannon thrives in intense roles, and they don’t get much grimmer than that of remorseless hitman Kuklinski. However, the film never really explores Kuklinksi’s conscience -or lack thereof -rendering the whole endeavour slightly hollow. With an eclectic, but generally well-judged supporting cast -including Chris Evans (Captain America), David Schwimmer (Friends) and Stephen Dorff (Felon) -The Iceman is a grisly, vivid drama that is elevated to the next level by Shannon’s heavyweight performance. Although Kuklinski’s prolific kill-rate takes on a monotonous quality after a while, The Iceman arguably represents a fresh slant on the ‘rise and fall’ mob movie template. If you enjoyed Andrew Dominik’s similarly flawed Killing Them Softly, The Iceman is well worth investigating, and actually feels like an unwitting companion piece. Intriguing stuff.
Siberian Education (Metrodome) is Oscar-winning director Gabriele Salvatores’ adaptation of the best-selling memoir of the same name by Nicolai Lilin. The story is set in Siberia, where a ruthless brotherhood of banished criminals rules the roost with their brutal moral code, which values the lives of everyone except politicians and cops. Under the tutelage of his fearsome grandfather (John Malkovich, Con Air), Kolyma (Lithuanian Arnas Fedaravicius) adopts the tribe’s bloody manifesto as his own, only to fall out with his lifelong best friend Gagarin (Vilius Tumalavicus) as their paths diverge.
Italian director Salvatores -who scooped the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1991 with Mediterraneo -but is perhaps better known for more recent movies such as I’m Not Scared (2003) and Quo Vadis, Baby? (2005) -has taken the unusual step of making an English-language version of a Russian story, although the memoir reportedly sold well in Italy, underlining the attraction. Hollywood character actors Malkovich and Peter Stormare (Fargo) increase the international flavour with a pair of eye-catching glorified cameos, but their respective involvement only succeeds in muddying the waters further. Despite its impressive credentials, Siberian Education is a muddled, occasionally diverting thriller that is likely to struggle to win over mainstream viewers. While some of Malkovich’s more theatrical flourishes linger in the memory, much of the movie is just plain forgettable.