Tag Archives: Ray Liotta

The Iceman

24 Nov

the iceman

 

Director: Ariel Vromen

Writers: Morgan Land (screenplay), Ariel Vromen (screenplay)

Stars: Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, James Franco

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 106 minutes

This is based on the true story of a contract killer living and murdering in New Jersey in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The hitman, Richard Kuklinski, achieved notoriety because of the number of murders that he was associated with (approx. 100), the iceman nickname that the press gave him and because of the very ordinary and healthy family life that he maintained. Kuklinski, of Polish origin, appeared to be a regular Joe, but was far from it. His psychopathic tendencies were funnelled into contract killing for local mobsters and that allowed him to support and to nurture a family. This film focuses on the central contradiction of his life.

Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski and his towering frame dominates the film. He is a large man and a brooding and menacing presence. Here he is reminiscent of James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, but with added threat. Shannon is well respected by other actors, but is far from a household name. Acting like this, he probably should be; this is a big performance from a very talented actor. His large head, cold eyes, slow and purposeful walk fit the character, but Shannon is more than his physical attributes and imbues Kuklinski with magnetism, depth and a strange poignancy.

There is not a great deal of plot and when the story gets more complicated it less easy to follow and oddly less interesting. The second half mainly involves a lot of tough guys mumbling about double crossing each other. The most intriguing scenes later on provide an insight to the Kuklinski childhood dominated by an abusive father. The young Richard is prone to torturing animals in a clearly desensitized reaction to the physical abuse routinely met out by dad. A conclusion is that the contract killing work of the adult Richard is a way to stay level and to keep demons at bay. He thus manages to live a normal life with wife and kids.

This is a good and mostly gripping film. The 1970’s production and design are on the mark and there are a couple of very good supporting turns by the likes of Ray Liotta. Shannon is excellent throughout and pulls the audience in as his two wholly separate and compartmentalized lives unravel and collide. There are some smart observations about psychosis too in between the assortment of murders. It is not perfect by any means, but is very nicely done. A small, tight and rewarding movie. 

The Place Beyond the Pines

6 Oct

the place beyond the pines

 

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance (story), Ben Coccio (story)

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 140 minutes

 

This slow burn drama was hot property on the film festival circuit, but its heat dissipated at the cinema. Regarding the cast, story and end product I am surprised by the poor reception. This is a good film and deserves an audience beyond Sundance and Venice. The issues for the ‘mainstream’ I am sure lay with the rather ambitious layering of three connected stories, the slow-quick-slow pacing of the film and Ryan Gosling’s character. His fairground stunt rider dominated the marketing of the film, but the story actually revolves around Bradley Cooper’s character.

The transition from Gosling to Cooper is the first of two significant shifts in a film that aims to tell three connected stories. Both gear changes have the propensity to frustrate, but I went along with them and ultimately enjoyed this from writer-director Derek Cianfrance. No doubt Gosling die-hards will be disappointed by this and the snobbier film critics scoffed at Cianfrance’s ambition. All of that is understandable up to a point, but I was taken with this. It reminded me of a couple of films from Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby and In the Valley of Elah) where stories veer suddenly off in unexpected directions, but then come back again to connect the dots.

Coming after Drive this is another strong, silent and Steve McQueen-esque turn from Ryan Gosling. Here he shifts from expert getaway car driver to expert getaway motorbike rider, but again his criminality pays for his working class girlfriend to move on with her life. Eva Mendes is that girl and Bradley Cooper is the cop that goes after Gosling. It is a strong cast of gifted actors. We have seen it before from Gosling, but Cooper is stretched further than usual here and is convincing as the conflicted and ambitious cop.

There are two excellent supporting turns in this; one from Ray Liotta as a crooked and bullying colleague to Cooper and one from Ben Mendelsohn as Gosling’s partner in crime. Liotta still has the ability to put people completely ill at ease and is nicely menacing here. Mendelsohn was fantastic in Killing Them Softly and is on top form again. He is a laid back actor, but somehow captivating to watch and his relationship with Gosling, including a nice Hall & Oates inside joke, is a highlight.

The second narrative swerve, into the third act and final story, is not as effective as the first and at 140 minutes this is a little on the long side. It is not a perfect film, but it is very watchable, genuinely moving, well-acted and well worth your time. The conflict between criminal Gosling and lawman Cooper ignites the film and what follows is a sincere deliberation on the relationships of fathers and sons and the struggle to outrun the past. Cianfrance is a talented and thoughtful film-maker and has followed up strongly on the 2010 film Blue Valentine (also with Gosling).

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