Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Iceman and the Irishman : This Blog Inspired by True Events

Movies are not real life. If they were, then who the hell would go see a movie? Nonetheless, movies are fond of proclaiming that they were “based on a true story” or even more vaguely “inspired by true events.” Which is all well and good, after all it’s the job of advertising to tell you anything that might get you to pay money to go see explosions, zombies, robots, or pirates.

It never fails to make me laugh when people complain about movie not being realistic, or changing the details around. To these people I always like to say “No shit, this must be the first time ever a movie isn’t accurate.”
We expect truth from books, but only entertainment from movies.

The Iceman and Kill the Irishman are both hard-boiled dramas about old-school gangsters who happen to be surprisingly sweet and sensitive with their families. They are both based on the lives of real men. Are they accurate? Probably not, but if I wanted truth I would spend more time at the library than on my browser scrolling through movie titles.

But are they entertaining? That’s the valid question to ask.

The Iceman is a killer for hire living with several textured layers of lies. Bungling any one detail could ruin his life, get him sent to jail, or even whacked. Richard Kuklinksi (Michael Shannon) balances his lies almost as well as he makes people disappear.

One on level he is a devoted husband, a loving father, and a generous friend. Although he seems distracted, and often has to go away for work, he has a perfect family life, and he knows it, and he needs to keep making money to support it. He makes money by killing people for the local crime boss. When said crime boss comes under pressure, he orders Kuklinksi to stop working.

This cuts off his income – which he can’t afford – so he becomes a silent partner to Mr. Freezy, a freelance hitman played with pinache by an unrecognizable Chris Evans. This ice cream-truck driving psycho is about as far from Captain America as you can get, and Evans is terrific. He’s a good match for the quiet, sullen Shannon, who excels, as always, as portraying silent rage and bottled up resentment. He’s one of the top character actors in the world right now, and is always commanding when playing this type of creep.

The Iceman is not a perfect film, skimming over some areas of interest and taking way too long in areas of not-so-interest. But the cast carries the film every step of the way; aside from Shannon and Evans, you’ve got Ray Liotta, James Franco, Robert Davi, and surprisingly strong dramatic work from Wynona Rider and David Schwimmer. Not a type-o.

Kill the Irishman begins softly, following the humblr beginnings of Danny Greene, an Irish American bloke with the body of the brute and the mind of a scholar. Against his better judgment he gets involved with the local union. He only has the best of intentions for getting a fair shake for the dock workers, but you know what they say about good intentions; before you know it you’re making deals with Christopher Walken. And if you’ve ever seen a movie before, you know you should never make a deal with Christopher Walken.

Greene is a charismatic, likeable fellow, and his portrayal by Ray Stevenson is the driving force that makes the movie work. The supporting cast is solid. Linda Cardellini is great in a thankless role, Val Kilmer and Vincent D’Onofrio are good, as you would expect, as is Robert Davi (who now must be cast in all organized crime movies, by order of law). But it’s Stevenson’s movie, and he makes the most of it. He has a rare combination of strength and humor, which is why is usually see him in strongarm roles like in Thor, The Other Guys, Punisher:War Zone, and Book of Eli. This is a rare starring role for Stevenson, and I think he single-handedly makes the movie worth a watch.

Overall, Kill the Irishman is a good movie that falls a little short of being great. The material is good (the real Greene endured so many assassination attempts it boggles the mind) and the cast is solid, but somehow the movie never stops feeling like Scorsese-lite. With a more sure-handed script and director, this could have been an all-time great gangster movie. As it stands, its still a good one.

Now, as to the veracity of these movies, it seems to be in short supply. The real-life Kuklinski bears little resemblance to his movie counterpart. And the closing moments of Kill the Irishman show newsreel footage of the real Danny Greene, and it makes you feel like watching a documentary about the guy. (There isn’t one yet. I checked.)

But if you’re anything like me, you can’t handle the truth. You don’t want to handle the truth. Just give me some good gangster movies, and leave the actual factuals to the trolls on website forums. The Iceman and Kill the Irishman are good movies – they won’t straighten your curlies or anything, but they are well worth a watch.

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