‘The Iceman’ cometh: Ariel Vromen hits the big time

Israeli director’s breakout film chronicles life of Richard Kuklinski, a mafia hit man who killed more than 100 people while his family thought he was working for Disney

Michael Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski in "The Iceman," a film by Israeli-born director Ariel Vroman (photo credit: screen capture/YouTube)
Michael Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski in "The Iceman," a film by Israeli-born director Ariel Vroman (photo credit: screen capture/YouTube)

Israeli-born director Ariel Vromen, whose new Hollywood flick “The Iceman” has won major accolades from fans and critics since its US opening last month, said making the film had become an obsession for him in recent years.

Considered Vromen’s breakout debut as director, “The Iceman,” based on a true story, chronicles the life and brutal slayings of Richard Kuklinski, a mafia hit man who was convicted of killing more than 100 people between 1964 and 1986 and who died while serving two life sentences in a New Jersey prison.

“He led a perfectly normal life — was married and had two daughters and told them he worked for the Disney Studios in New Jersey,” Vromen said during an interview with Army Radio, and no one suspected him of being a professional assassin.

“He was the preferred hit man of the Five Families [the five main, original Italian-American mafia crime families of New York City] in Brooklyn and New Jersey who operated during the 1970s and 1980s,” Vromen explained.

Kuklinski was considered one of the most dangerous individuals in the history of New Jersey, a state long considered a hotbed for organized crime.

“I would move heaven, hell, and everything in between to get to you,” Kulkinski said during an interview with HBO before his death, before pausing to add, “You wouldn’t be safe anywhere if I was mad at you — and that’s not bold, that’s the truth.

“You’d have to shoot me to stop me, and if you don’t kill me, you’re stupid,” he said, deadpan, to the camera, and smirked. “Because the next time you see me, I will kill you.”


Speaking in fluent Hebrew (he moved to the United States 15 years ago, when he was 25), Vromen said that he saw a documentary about Kuklinski on HBO a few years back, and that when two books about the killer hit the market, he started researching and got the idea for his movie.

Ariel Vromen (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Ariel Vromen (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

Vromen said most of the research for the film came from interviews and archives from Kuklinski’s court cases, and that he had almost 24-hours worth of documentary footage of Kuklinski speaking.

When asked if he contacted Kuklinski’s daughters, Vromen said that he had. “At first, I didn’t. I had a lot of material… but then yes, I contacted them,” he said. Vromen said both of Kulkinski’s daughters were “very nice.” Both are in their 40s, and he said he believes the movie helped them get some closure in their lives. “I think the movie made them re-live the story [of their father] all over again, and that it helped them cope in, in some way,” he said. “Still, the movie’s incriminating, and it’s hard for them to deal with this type of truth [about their father].”

On assembling his star-studded cast — which included Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Michael Shannon, James Franco, and other household silver screen names — Vromen said it took a lot of work, and “a lot of sleepless nights” to get the actors and investors on board. He said the process usually started with the actors’ agents, but that he had an easier time than expected because Michael Shannon, who plays Kuklinski, was involved almost from the beginning.

The Iceman
The Iceman

“It’s been a long journey,” Vromen said about getting the film made. It took a lot out of him to be away from Israel, he said. “There were a few times I was close to packing up and coming back from New York — but my friend would convince me to keep at it,” he said.

Speaking about his new-found fame, Vromen said that “there’s always another big step ahead. There’s no ‘I did it,’ and then that’s it,” he said. For now, he said he’s thankful he gets to do “what he loves” each day, and that in itself has been the true achievement.

His next film? Narco. A warm and fuzzy flick that deals the world of Colombia’s drug lords. Seriously.

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