This movie, based on a book based on a documentary based on a true story, is obviously an interesting one to tell, considering all the permutations it's had to date. Michael Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski, a loving family man with a bit of a troubled past and anger control issues that he tries to distance himself from. Unfortunately, after a run-in with a local mob boss (Ray Liotta), his killer skills are put to regular use, and he becomes one of the most notorious and prolific contract killers of all time. Keeping his work life and family life separate is difficult though, and his doting wife (Winona Ryder) and daughters do notice a change in his demeanour over time, but all are completely ignorant to what he actually does for a living.
See? Really interesting stuff! Unfortunately for us, writer/director Ariel Vromen decides to focus more on the hitman's home-life than on his profession, and while taking that less-travelled route is courageous, he forgot to back it up with anything interesting. Kuklinski comes home sometimes in a sulk, and sometimes he lashes his anger out on inanimate objects, but there's never any real feeling of threat that he might hurt his family. Ditto with mob-boss Liotta, constantly waving a gun in people's faces to show that he means business, but Shannon is such an imposing presence that everyone else seems harmless in comparison.
While that is all well and good for when he shows up as the big baddie in this summer's Man Of Steel, it hurts this movie in its quieter moments. When Shannon is having nice family and friends interactions, there is still such a sense of unease in his company that there is never a moment that allows you to satisfactorily unclench. He is a fantastic actor, turning in another blinding performance, but there is such a constant underlying menace to his character that it's almost impossible to enjoy.
The bland 'n' beige 70s aesthetic and almost tacked on hit-man stuff (most of the killings come in the form of a montage, with only one dancefloor-set hit in any way memorable) also don't help, but Shannon is assisted by a stellar supporting cast. Along with Ryder and Liotta, there's a near unrecognisable David Schwimmer, an uglified Chris Evans, as well as blink-and-you'll-miss-'em James Franco and Stephen Dorff appearances.
But this is the Michael Shannon show. Come for the exceptional performance, but you'll have to stay for the unexceptional movie it's stuck in.