Michael Shannon is descended from a long line of actors primed to explode. As with his legendary forebears — James Cagney, Robert Ryan, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino — the tension in his performances comes from an eerily controlled exterior, the anger surging beneath, and our knowledge that somehow, somewhere, detonation is on its way. With Shannon, the suspense seems even more rooted in a kind of existential disgust. His characters in movies like “Take Shelter” and TV shows like “Boardwalk Empire” chew their guts from the inside out, and their eyeballs are yellow with rage at the world’s unfairness.
In “The Iceman,” one of Shannon’s characters finally finds a way to turn this into a career trajectory. The movie is the true story (more or less) of Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, a hit man for the New Jersey and New York mobs who claimed to have murdered anywhere from 100 to 250 people during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. It seems likely that the real Kuklinski was a serial killer who just happened to find gainful employment. He didn’t much care whom he murdered, or where, but he was skilled enough at covering his tracks to build a suburban home life with a wife, Deborah (played in the film by Winona Ryder), and two daughters (McKaley Miller and Megan Sherrill), none of whom suspected a thing.