One of my favorite things on YouTube right now is a clip called "HowtTo Make Any Movie Look Good." It's a remixed trailer for 2003's comedy flop Kangaroo Jack. The person responsible took out all the examples of the CGI marsupial dancing and rapping along to Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and replaced it with serious music and healthy amounts of bad guy Michael Shannon, whose role in the film is actually pretty small. One thing you learn from this clip is that when Michael Shannon is in a movie he tends to be the most interesting element of that movie.
The other thing you learn? Dude is the king of Crazy Eyes, possibly American cinema's foremost practitioner. That's a very complex face to pull when the camera is close up in your nose pores. People will think you're overacting if you aren't highly skilled. But Shannon is a master at it. When he looks at you that way, you're sure he's about leap off the screen to murder you. You already watched the Delta Gamma clip. You know what it looks like.
The Iceman, then, represents a next step for our current coolest actor. It features very little in the way of Crazy Eyes. Shannon's replaced them with a hollowed out emptiness, a ruined soul, a stern blank gaze. And it's chilling.
He stars as Richard Kuklinski, a real-life contract killer who, between the years 1966 and 1986, worked for various organized crime outfits and murdered over 100 people. He also froze and chopped up the bodies with the help of hippie ice cream truck driver Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans, hilariously shaggy) in order to make time-of-death more difficult to determine. Thanks to a brutally abusive childhood, Kuklinski's tendency toward becoming a sociopath was enhanced with extra fearlessness and powers of repression, so much so that his own wife (played here by a skittish Winona Ryder) and daughters didn't know what he did for a living until his arrest. He was a devoted family man and a nearly impeccable liar, his psyche divided, desperate for the kind of decency not found in any other aspect of his life.
Filmmaker Ariel Vroman's account straightforwards you into darkness, into the familiar and unsurprising grimy pit of true crime, the kind of black-n-blacker morality tale the movies have loved to tell for decades. A very bad man does very bad things and then he's caught. And aside from those brief flashbacks to his cruel younger years, we're not given much in the way of reasons why. All the camera shows us is how a man like Kuklinski conducts himself in the moment when he's about to kill and what happens when the kill is complete. We witness him making others as literally dead as he feels, reserving what little humanity he possesses for the three people he's allowed himself to love.
It's a career-changing performance in a movie that wishes it were as accomplished, one worth watching even though you know the beats and rhythms surrounding him and an ending observable from far away. He'll be our next De Niro, Duvall, Hoffman or Pacino soon enough. So keep your eyes on this guy and learn the name that goes with that glare. Because he's coming to get you.