Logline: The true story of Richard Kuklinski, a hitman who killed over a hundred people for the Mob, whilst keeping his violent job from his family.
Genre: True Crime
Directed by: Ariel Vroman
Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta
I saw this film again recently, when a friend and I were looking for something to watch. Is it just a low budget gangster film, I was asked? Well, in a way it is. It’s a mafia film, based on a true crime story, and it has the ever blue eyed Ray Liotta at his best. So, it fits pretty true to genre, and I think it generally satisfies those who are looking for something like that to watch, but I think that what elevates it beyond being just another film is that it’s truly moving.
It is a solidly made film. The performances all feel very real and are well cast, Michael Shannon lurking about towering over everyone, and Winona Ryder manga eyed at her most vulnerable, with a clever turn by David Schimmer. The tones tend to be brownish, lending the sense that at times things are sepia tinted, at times gritty, but always slightly dirty, as though that patina over everything is inescapable. The music emotes, but never intrudes.
But it’s more than that, for me.
It’s about being a man who is split down the middle. On the one hand, he is a man who is inured to violence and darkness, and accepts it as a central component of life. On the other, he is a person who longs for something better, who finds solace in his family, and who wants to be someone with them who he cannot be in any other part of his life. In some sense, there is a tension derived from the sense that eventually, those two worlds must collide, which keeps the film interesting. But it’s not merely that. It makes the man likable. It makes him human. He is known for not having emotions, for being stone cold, for not caring, to the extent that he is purported to have killed over a hundred people, and being able to dismember and freeze them. So he’s not a nice guy. But in his mind, there’s the dark world, and the things people do to each other in it, and there’s some few sacred things, pure things worth saving. He doesn’t kill women or children, and he adores his family.
It sounds like a little thing, maybe, but when did you last see a film about a happy marriage? Or about a man who respects his wife? Particularly in a film aimed at a mixed or male audience. It’s a rare thing. And yet, this man’s story felt true, for me, because of this very thing. I’ve known a few men like this over the years, who one would think were amoral, who indulge in crime, but who know what true loyalty is and who love their families. Perhaps it comes from growing up and living in a violent world? The violent childhood of Kuklinski is hinted at in the film, but in fact, his parents were so violent that one of his siblings died at their hands.
Which brings us to the nature of the true crime film. A cursory look at the facts show that it’s broadly speaking, based on truth, or at least the truth at Kuklinski tells it. Which makes it all the more poignant that throughout the course of the film, and this man’s life, he manages to walk this fine line, keeping his brutal self out of his family life, and his emotional self out of his working life, so that his family might never know what he is truly capable of. I normally am a stickler for facts, but when I watch this film, I’m ok with just being taken in by the story, about this man who had his humanity taken away by the brutality of his life, and who found it again for some time with his family, who he lost forever when he was arrested and they found out the truth. So you can watch this film as a straight up mob film, as a metaphor, or a social comment, but I think, ultimately, it’s a very human story about what remains to us after our innocence is gone, and how we can fall so far in life, but still have redeemable qualities.