I didn't know much about Richard Kuklinski before seeing Ariel Vromen's The Iceman
(named after the former's sobriquet as a contract killer for the mob). It's a solid enough movie: an interesting story competently executed though solid performances and an unintrusive camera. It's watchable, probably more so than most of what's currently out there, but what bugged came up after the film during a Q&A with the director. Someone asked him why he left out the spousal abuse. As an example, I found this interview
with Kuklinski's family from a 2006 episode of Larry King Live
where guest host John Roberts asks Kuklinski's wife of 25 years, Barbara, about that very topic:
JR: Barbara, you have said of Richard "There were two Richards. I never knew who would be walking in the door. He could be generous to a fault or the meanest man on earth." Tell us more about that.
BK: That's true. He was kind, considerate. You know he would have done anything for all of us, very generous gifts and flowers and the best dinners and nice wine. But when whatever twisted him, whatever happened, it didn't matter how good those times were because the bad was so bad then.
JR: And he abused you physically?
BK: He certainly did.
JR: What did he do?
BK: Stabbed me, broke my nose, lost consciousness many times, strangled me, would wake up, you know, at two o'clock in the morning with a pillow over my face and he would tell me that he decided that was the day I die.
Some pretty intense shit, right?, which says a lot about who this guy was and what it was like to live under his domination. Vromen's answer to why he left all of this out was that it would make half the audience walk out -- that is, inhibit our ability to identify with Kuklinksi. But the man was a casebook example of the sociopath, a person who can't identify, or can't empathize, with the feelings of another. So understanding through identification is a pretty stupid reason for making this film. How Vromen creates identification is by manufacturing a pressure-cooker setup for Kuklinski's behavior. When his mob boss (Ray Liotta) suspends him, Kuklinksi becomes increasingly agitated at home, blowing up at his wife, though never striking her. He soon apologizes, saying that she and their daughters (their son was left out of the film) are all that's important to him. It's okay in this fantasy land to slaughter a hundred men, but punching your wife in the nose or traumatizing your children is just going too far, despite his family's being around to tell the tale. Furthermore, by using the pressure cooking theory and mostly just showing the "generous side" of Kuklinski at home, the slaughter of all those men becomes perversely justified in the film as a quid pro quo for his distaff half. He kills for his love and the protection of his wife and daughters. You'd have to go back to the classic days of Hollywood crime flicks to see this level of mythologizing towards murderous psychopathic gangsters (or at least to Penn's Bonnie & Clyde
). Ironically, it makes Kuklinksi's family accomplices to his crimes, rather than victims. His wife didn't care what he did as long as he brought home the bacon and made her feel like a princess. But as a fantasy, it's entertaining enough, I guess.