Starring: Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, John Cusack
You may like this if you like: Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007), Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, 2002), Untraceable (Gregory Hoblit, 2008)
The Frozen Ground is based on the true story of serial killer Robert Hansen, and the events of 1983. After several bodies are discovered buried and brutally murdered in the remote Alaskan wilderness, police feel that these may have all been at the hands of the same killer, and so begins the hunt for a serial killer. Sergeant Jack Halcombe (Cage) strongly believes that all the evidence points to Robert Hansen (Cusack), but only has circumstantial evidence, and is unable to convince his superiors. He manages to track down the one victim of Hansen’s that survived; prostitute Cyndy Paulsen (Hudgens) and somehow together they attempt to bring Hansen to justice and his murdering spree to an end.
True stories of serial killers frequently get the Hollywood treatment, and this time it is the story of Robert Hansen in this low key thriller. As much as we hate to admit it, we are fascinated by serial killers, and films offer the perfect chance to attempt to get inside their inner psyche. However, Walker’s focus here is more on those that brought Hansen to justice; primarily Cage’s Sergeant Jack Halcombe (based on the real life character Gleen Flothe) and Hudgen’s prostitute Cyndy Paulsen. So if you want a film with any kind of attempt to get inside the mind of a serial killer this is not that film, as there is no attempt to understand why he committed these horrific crimes. This could have been fine, and the true story of how they brought Hansen to justice is certainly a potentially good story as the mild mannered Hansen was very good at covering his tracks.
However, in making Halcombe the protagonist and often focussing on his attempts to almost provide a father like figure to Paulsen, Walker has produced an inconsistent, messy and often quite dull thriller. This is not helped by Cage’s sleepwalking performance making us hard to like a protagonist that looks permanently bored. I remember a time when Nic Cage was an actor, maybe he should too! When the focus is on the detective work then this is very watchable and fascinating stuff. Again, mainly down to the fact it is based on true events. However, when the focus is on trying to develop the characters of Halcombe and Paulsen, this is often painfully clunky, clichéd and just a little boring. This is a shame as Hudgens gives a good performance, but is not given especially good dialogue. Cusack himself is fine, though as well as being underused, for me doesn’t quite cut the mild mannered inner intensity needed for such a role that is admittedly extremely difficult to get right. When Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson turns up with a very fetching mullet as a pimp it does not make things any better. I know he was a producer of this film, but he should have kept it at that as this man truly cannot act!
The film’s final third, and the eventual face off of Cage and Cusack do help things pick up, and this film is more often perfectly watchable than not. However, once again there just seems to be a lack of urgency when there truly should be. It is all watchable stuff, but lacking the intensity that there really should have been, especially considering this is a true story. Walker does make good use of the Alaska locations to create an extremely effective atmosphere that does very much act as a character in the story. However, I am not sure if we need aerial shots quite so frequently to constantly remind us that Alaska can be a little cold and remote.
The fact is that Walker has got such great source material, it would take a truly awful filmmaker to really mess it up, but he is not far away as this is a film that had the potential to be so much better. Where is David Fincher when you need him?!?
A depressing case of wasted potential, The Frozen Ground is an adequate and perfectly watchable slow burning thriller, but severely let down by poor casting and misguided writing. A potentially fascinating and compelling true story turned into a slightly forgettable and occasionally boring one.