Trailer Face-Off: The Ice Man vs. The Company You Keep

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Iceman vs. The Company You Keep, two movies featuring characters pursued by a violent past.

Past murders play a defining role in the lives of the both Richard Kulinski (Michael Shannon) and Jim Grant (Robert Redford). In The Company You Keep, Grant has remade his life as a lawyer after involvement with the Weather Underground, a group that protested the Vietnam War. His past comes to light when Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) turns herself in for a 30-year-old murder that happened when a bank robbery went awry. When Ben Shepard, an enterprising journalist (Shia LaBeouf), uncovers and exposes Grant’s involvement, Grant goes on the run to clear his name. The Iceman focuses on real-life hit man Kulinski, who committed 100 murders over a span of more than 20 years, which came as a great surprise to his wife and daughters when he was arrested in 1986. While both movies take some degree of inspiration from real events, Iceman is both based on a true story and looks much more visceral and exciting.
Advantage: The Iceman

A Man Has a Code
“Our government was murdering millions. We never betrayed each other, any of us, over all these years,” Solarz says in a meeting with Shepard. The killing that the Weather Underground committed was unintentional and took place as a result of a political crime. Does that excuse a murder? Probably not. “I don’t kill women and children,” Kulinski (along with every hit man ever) says to his menacing boss, Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta). The murders that he commits are nominally of bad people (everyone that a Mafioso wants killed is de facto bad, right?) and he has a degree of compunction about who he murders. Does that excuse 100 murders? Again, we’re going to go with no. The code that the heroes of Company live by both binds them and sets them in opposition to war at a time when the US government was also culpable for the death of innocents. The code in The Iceman is flexible enough that it excuses relentless contract killing.
The Company You Keep

Anything for My Princess
The men (Grant and Kulinski) do what they can to protect their daughters and wives from their sordid past. Grant leaves his 11-year-old daughter sleeping to escape to the country and attempt to clear his name. Kulinski gives Dimeo a really snakey side-eye while Demeo threatens to kill his family. While Kulinski puts his family in direct danger, he seems more interesting as a protector and a provider than Grant does. In the movies, having a violent psychopath on your side is fine provided he stays on your side and, when it comes to family, it’s guaranteed that Kulinski will. Grant attempts to walk the straight and narrow before Shepard (Shia LaBeouf is a life ruiner; he ruins lives) forces him to go on the lam. His primary motivation is shielding himself and his protest buddies from harm, which is very noble, but also includes leaving his daughter behind. The deranged mass murderer would never dream of abandoning his family like that.
The Iceman

The Enemy
The choice here is between Demeo, a ranking member of the Gambino family, and the combination of Shepard and a government employee named Cornelius (Terrence Howard), the brains behind the manhunt for Grant. Liotta plays Demeo with a casual gangster menace—a genre he’s familiar with. Demeo might be the obvious choice: he threatens Kulinski in person, outside his home, with killing his family. But consider Cornelius, who is directing a massive surveillance operation dedicated to catching one man. He has professional tools at his disposal—maps, helicopters—and he uses them all against Grant, who is not a violent man. Demeo is scary, yes, but could be ducked by going into the Witness Protection Program. Cornelius is the Witness Protection Program. He is terrifying, modern, and believes that he’s on the side of justice. Demeo has no such illusions.
Advantage: The Company You Keep

The Company You Keep
comes from Robert Redford, the Academy Award-winning director of Ordinary People, Quiz Show, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. The man knows what he’s doing in front of the camera, as well as behind it. He directs himself in this movie, which is not a new experience for him, but his best work as either director or actor comes when he focuses on one side of the camera. Ariel Vroman, the director of The Iceman, is less of a known quantity. The Iceman is his third feature, and first in over half a decade. Still, in what little the trailer shows, he looks like a man that knows how to shoot a murder. Although Redford has the track record, Vroman’s potential pushes him into the lead here.
Advantage: The Iceman

The Verdict
Both of these films are retro in their own way. The Iceman takes place over 30 years ago and is a serious take on a genre (mafia hit man movies) that has been confined to comedies in recent years. The Company You Keep is a ’70s-style political thriller that takes place in the modern era, although its inciting events are from the time of the Vietnam War. The Company You Keep will be a well-shot, well-acted,  sweeping story of a man’s search for justice in lush, forest settings. The Iceman, like its protagonist, is a wild card: it could fail, but the ceiling for The Iceman looks much higher.
Winner: The Iceman

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