The Frozen Ground Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 08.23.2013
411's Terry Lewis checks in with the brutal thriller The Frozen Ground, based on real-life serial killer Robert Hansen. But does it stay cool or should it go in the freezer?
Nicholas Cage - Jack Halcombe John Cusack - Robert Hansen Vanessa Hudgens - Cindy Paulson 50 Cent - Pimp Clate Johnson Radha Mitchell – Allie Halcombe Jodi Lyn O’ Keefe – Chelle Ringell Dean Norris – Sgt. Lyle Haugsven Kurt Fuller – D.A. Pat Clives Kevin Dunn – Lt. Bob Jent
The ‘based on a true story’ crime film genre is already a bloated mass as it is, so it has to be something remarkable to make an impact nowadays. Well I suppose taking it all the way up to Anchorage to cover the Robert Hansen serial killings in The Frozen Ground is more than enough set against the Alaskan frozen tundra. Throw in a great on paper cast and we have something different enough to warrant a mention in the tail end of the summer blockbuster season.
Jack Halcombe (Nicholas Cage, Stolen) is a few days from finishing up with the Anchorage Police Department before a parcel arrives on his desk hinting of a possible serial killer, linked with the disappearances of numerous prostitutes and young girls over the late 70’s and early 80’s. His only hope in solving the case relies on bringing survivor Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens, Spring Breakers) from brink, as she’s slipping into the dark and dangerous world of the Alaskan strip club scene. Meanwhile, the killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack, The Raven) carries on with his normal life as an outstanding member of the community, slowly realising more and more his world around him is about to come apart.
Much is made as the Cage being a bit of a joke nowdays, but here he shows he hasn’t forgot the most important thing to his career – the man can act. In his best performance in years, his portrayal of the man his character Halcombe is based on is superb, giving you a driven man whose fed up with the bureaucracy behind the police force he serves and just wants to solve his horrible case. The frustration and the journey we go on with Cage is awesome and is an absorbing performance.
Genuinely chilling is the best way to describe Cusack’s performance as Hansen. He’s not my favourite choice when I see him plugged into leading roles in action and comedy gigs but here, as an all serious serial killer, he’s perfection. It goes a long way in the fact Cuscak looks a bit similar to him. He captures the essence of a double life man whose walls are cracking inbetween so well, before breaking down entirely near the end of The Frozen Ground. A return to form.
I’ll freely admit to have never watched High School Musical and the various amounts of teen dross Hudgens has appeared in since but least I knew what she looks like… so imagine my surprise when I got to the end thinking where the hell she was in proceedings only to find she played Cindy. The girl is caked in so much makeup and plays a drugged up hooker/dancer giving her such a radical departure from her formerly squeaky clean imagine (no jokes please guys!). Not terrible but a bit whiny at times but she’s pretty good at covering herself and breaking from her typecasts. Bit of a gamble on her fairly safe reputation (aside from Spring Breakers) but one that will pay off. Decent turn when I didn’t expect it. Same can’t be said for G-Unit maestro 50 Cent. He pretty much plays, well himself, as a pimp and it’s easy to see why he’s here when you see the big fat producers credit. Must have ponied up for some of the film’s budget I presume to kickstart his film career.
The rest of the cast is a fine mixture of people who are either waiting a new acting gig to come up, waiting for a big breakthrough role or killing time until their TV shows start again. Jodi Lyn O’ Keefe of Prison Break fame is straight out of the ‘Where is she now?’ file as a fellow prostitute who gets Cindy work and drags her into the scummy underground of Anchorage. In a weirdly short and probably unnecessary sub plot is Halcombe’s wife Allie, (played by Radha Mitchell, Silent Hill) moaning about him taking a new case right before he finishes on the force. Seems so small to be included into the film even if it’s real life events and I wonder if it’s thrown in just to give Mitchell a bit more screen time.
Dean Norris of Breaking Bad lore doesn’t break from tradition and is a background cop with a few lines. More interesting is Kevin Dunn. I like Dunn, I think he would do great things with a prominent role made for him, even if it’s the bad comedy I have to sit through whenever I rewatch the Transformers trilogy. So watchable. Last but by no means least, Russell from Wayne’s World himself, Kurt Fuller! Man he’s starting to look old. Walking into this film a bit blind, I had tonnes of unintentional fun with these old face in a rich minor cast.
The direction by newcomer Scott Walker is a bit of a mixed bag. A film like The Frozen Ground you would expect would be rammed with mood and atmosphere. Well in city scenes, especially on the ‘crime alley’/prostitute street, the film does a good job of playing up the desolate frozen shithole aspect of Anchorage and Alaska, but it feels a bit wasted in scenes in the wilderness. You have the whole backdrop of the beautiful, wild, untamed Alaskan wasteland and yet it’s just scenes of what feels like people walked into a field off the interstate to film next to some woods. I get how it probably would have been fairly expensive to fly cast and crew out there for minimal amount of screentime but it’s not as if they’re going to make another film probably about the Alaskan serial killings is it? Might as well go the whole hog and effort the first time round. Also a bit laughable is the ridiculous amount of split second cuts between scenes of a second or two of Alaskan mountains. Just so random.
One thing I did enjoy from Walker was the quite graphic, verbal detailing over the decomposition of the numerous corpses strewn around the Alaskan countryside. There’s some solid science in terms of bodies mangled and rotting speed due to the elements and outside factors like animals. Perhaps it’s just the Dexter fan inside me but the effort is there. Despite the actual police procedurals being quite basic, the build up to the police interviews between Halcombe and Hansen is handed perfectly. In a powder keg situation which could blow up at any moment Halcombe is trying to find the one piece of evidence to finish Hansen off so he can properly charge him. Easily the best moments in the film.
It could be argued when tackling ‘based on a true story’ films the temptation is there to dumb it down somewhat and entertain-erise it for audience. There’s parts changed with Halcombe being a character based on the detective behind the Hansen case and there’s one or two scenes of Hansen managing to squirrel away evidence just before the police get ahold of him but from what I’ve read up on (Alaskan serial killers don’t travel well to the UK I’m afraid… well except on Discovery channel), all the big major points are covered and to be honest no form of media is ever going to cover a true story like this 100% and at least The Frozen Ground is kept in a serious tone throughout the runtime so you don’t feel patronised too much.
The 411: Perhaps I’m being a bit generous in giving The Frozen Ground a pass as it feels like a missed opportunity in places and it’s not exactly breaking new ground in a swelled market. Still a great cast and an unusual setting makes this not a waste of time. Slight thumbs up and recommended if anything to get away from the deluge of average summer blockbuster “hits” we’re stuck in the middle of at the moment.