Michael Shannon is stone-cold brilliant as Richard Kuklinski, the real-life mafia hitman who managed to keep his true profession secret from his wife (Winona Ryder) and daughters until his arrest in 1986. By then he had murdered more than 100 men over 20 years. How Kuklinski sustained his double life for so long makes for compelling viewing in Ariel Vromen's trigger-tense thriller. With Ray Liotta at maximum menace and Chris Evans and David Schwimmer ditching their nice-guy personas, this is GoodFellas with its heart ripped out.
Stick a gun in his face? Not a flicker. Tell him to kill an innocent homeless guy across the street? Keep the engine running. Pray for mercy? Be his guest - God never showed up yet.
But be rude about his wife or threaten his daughters? That's when "The Iceman" melts down.
Like TV's favourite serial killer Dexter, only less chatty and without another day job, Richard Kuklinski was just like any other suburban psycho. Bills to pay, family to deceive, people to kill.
However, unlike Dexter, Kuklinski mostly murdered for money and had no fixed MO, which made him hard to track down. Plus, he was entirely real.
Based partly on video interviews with Kuklinski following his conviction in 1986 and partly on a novelisation of his story by Anthony Bruno (author of Seven), this version of events is directed by second-timer Ariel Vromen with impressive authority.
That Michael Shannon delivers a leading performance to match comes as no surprise. The guy's so intense he causes screen burn (anyone who doubts it will soon be kneeling before Zod...)
We first meet Kuklinski mumbling his way through his first date with wife-to-be Deborah (Ryder) and telling her the first lie of a relationship that would be built on them.
He says he dubs cartoons for Disney. He actually dubs porn movies for lowlifes like New York mobster Roy Demeo (Liotta). Roy, however, senses he's cut out for even dirtier jobs.
Free of nerves or conscience, Richie turns out to be the perfect killer. But after years of loyal service, the ever-paranoid Roy puts him on an enforced sabbatical.
With a family and homicidal streak to feed, the Iceman goes into partnership with 'Mr Freezy' (Evans), a freelance assassin who deals death from the back of an ice-cream van.
But by working for Demeo's rivals, Kuklinski puts his own family at risk. You mess with theirs, they mess with yours. And once they find your weak spot, you're going down.
All the while, Deborah and the girls suspect nothing. Or at least not until it's too late.
Unfortunately, in whipping through the story at breakneck pace, the script frequently exposes its own weak spot: characterisation by bullet points.
Only Kuklinski comes with a backstory, and that merely comprises a single, cliched flashback to his tough childhood and one scene with his jailbird brother (Stephen Dorff).
Yet no matter how underwritten, everyone draws the eye, from the enjoyably grungy Evans and perennial heavy Robert Davi to a cameoing James Franco and David Schwimmer, playing against type while bearing an uncanny resemblance to David Seaman (circa World Cup 2002) as Demeo's dimmest henchman.
Liotta makes his presence felt in more ways than one, reinforcing the film's obvious connection to GoodFellas while making an even stronger one to Joe Carnahan's attention-grabbing Narc. This completes a crime trilogy to be proud of.
Ultimately, this is a thriller, not a saga, so the gist is all you need. And what it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in grip, snap and flow.
Kuklinski died in prison under murky circumstances in 2006. He hadn't seen Deborah or his daughters for 20 years. Clearly, crime doesn't pay. But watching this movie does.