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RUNNING TIME 105 Minutes
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Scott Walker and producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming
• Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary by Writer/Director Scott Walker
• Examining The Frozen Ground: Behind the Scenes Interviews of Cast/Crew
• Writing The Frozen Ground
•Extended Interviews With Cast and Crew
A movie so dedicated to its Alaskan setting that even the tone is cold and desolate.
Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Based on the shocking true story of Alaska State Trooper Jack Halcombe, who set out to end the murderous rampage of one of the country’s most prolific serial killers, Robert Hansen, with the help of Cindy, a would-be victim who narrowly escaped Hansen’s clutches. Will Halcombe be able to negotiate the seedy underworld of Anchorage and the expansive Alaskan wilderness in time to end this cast-and-mouse game before another victim is claimed?
I hate movies that are based on true stories.
Let me amend that; I obviously don’t hate all movies based on true stories, that would just be ridiculous. Martin Scorsese keeps making good ones and there’s been a smattering of decent to great ones that have come out over the span of time. What I really hate, I guess, is the idea of “true story” movies.
Real life, by definition is not cinematic and it’s hard to really get into the head of an actual person. Often times characters are still-living people or have still-living relatives that will insist on their character being a squeaky clean whitewashed version of them that lacks the pathos and flaws that make a character compelling. The most successful way to spin these things seems to just make up a bunch of bullshit and slap some real names and events (if even that) on a stock movie plot and voila, gold (See: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Untouchables, and Gangster Squad.) The Frozen Ground does not adopt this style but manages to not be as bad as some.
The Frozen Ground is about the hunt for real-life serial killer Robert Hansen: an Alaskan business owner and generally regarded nice-guy who kidnapped young women, raped them, then took them out into the woods in his plane to hunt them like animals.
Already the movie you’re playing in your head upon reading that sentence is more entertaining than this movie because your head-canon is not bogged down with facts. A movie based on this premise would have been more raw and entertaining; as it is it has the same dull fan-fictiony quality that most true crime movies do.
The movie opens with Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens), a teenage prostitute, having just managed to escape from Hansen (John Cusack) who has raped and tortured her for days. Her testimony is not believed, her rape kit is never picked up, and the reason given is summed up by a dick-head detective who points out that Hansen is a prominent citizen and a family man and the girl is a prostitute, because he can apparently only speak in subtext instead of actual human words.
Years later, a body is found in the wilderness that turns out to be a missing girl and Alaska State Trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) starts connecting cases together and seeing Hansen’s name coming up repeatedly. He interviews Cindy, as she is the only living victim, in hopes of getting testimony to put Hansen away. Meanwhile, Hansen is getting panicky as the police circle ever closer and he has to find more and more discreet ways to chew scenery.
The real reason a lot of true story movies don’t work is because they’re stories that weren’t worth telling to begin with. I look at things like Rudy, Million Dollar Baby, The Perfect Storm, Patch Adams, and Valkyrie and wonder why anyone felt that these were events that required my attention. Watching someone fail miserably at something is even more depressing when you saw them try really hard and achieve up to that point (Rudy doesn’t fail but it’s just such a melodramatic non-event of a story that I had to include it.) Fortunately The Frozen Ground does have a story worth telling, which is half the battle, and the set-up and pay-off of said story both work really well, it’s the middle that fails to impress.
There’s not much story to tell on Halcombe tracking down Hansen that isn’t a bunch of boring police work, so the bulk of the plot follows Cindy (the movie purports to be the first time Cindy’s side of the story has been told) and if it is then she’s remarkably candid about all her drug use and general fucked up life, in any case it’s a good opportunity for an ex-Disney actress to get her hands dirty and play a role that’s not “safe.” The other chunk of the plot is dedicated to Robert Hansen’s sadistic actions toward his victims from abduction to murder and it’s pretty rough to watch. It also serves as a good opportunity for a former Hollywood heart-throb to get his hands dirty and play a role going against type.
Ultimately, both of these roles just feel like exploitation as we see Hudgens smoking crystal meth, pole dancing, and getting threatened by her pimp (played by 50 Cent in a stupid wig that makes him look like President Comacho from Idiocracy) then we flip to Cusack torturing, yelling at, and tying up women. It doesn’t do much for the narrative and even though I’m a fan of exploitation cinema, I find the exploitation of actual real-life victims to be about ten times more skeevy than the movie actually is. All the violence and sex is pretty sanitized, no worse than you would see on network TV, but the thought that it’s a depiction of real people being used to entertain me as a bunch of pretty actors troll for academy awards makes me feel dirtier than if I’d just done a marathon of Bloodsucking Freaks, The Human Centipede, Cannibal Holocaust, and A Serbian Film while maintaining an erection.
I will defend Nicolas Cage’s performance in any and every movie he has ever done. (Yes, even that one!) I find him to be a good actor, I think he’s done some of the best movies of his career in the last ten years (and also some of the worst), and no movie has every been made worse by his presence in the cast, so I was happy to see him turn in a very solid performance here.
Those tuning in for Nic “The C Stands For Crazy” Cage will be disappointed to find a sober and determined performance that makes the most out of what little use the script has for the character. It’s easy to imagine an alternate version of this movie where Cage delivers a scenery chewing performance as Hansen and Cusack does that broody smartass thing he’s been doing lately as Halcombe (perhaps in some elaborate plot where they take their faces off and swap them and then face off against one another in an attempt to get the other’s face off so they could get it back. It would probably have a catchy title like Two Guys Who Traded Faces), but it’s the subversion of that expectation that is probably the movie’s best quality. In any case it’s nice to see Cage proving that he’s capable of playing someone other than a psychopath or a weirdo.
Cusack gets the most memorable role here. I confess that even in movies I like I find his low-key whisper-talk to be only slightly less annoying than Richard Gere’s own approach to the same school of acting. Still, the man has a screen presence that can’t be denied and he owns this role. Cusack plays Hansen as a quiet, maybe simpleminded, man which makes his violent angry outbursts all the more effective. It’s Hansen’s brutal and sadistic qualities that really make Cusack’s best scenes memorable and the climax where Halcombe interrogates Hansen is easily the best in the movie.
Vanessa Hudgens does an admirable job as Cindy. A lot of her actions in the movie have that “I’m not a Disney star any more guys, look at how adult I am!” vibe about them but unlike, say, Lindsay Lohan in I Know Who Killed Me, she can back these claims up with actual acting ability. She’s still got a ways to go as an actress, and her scenes never lose the feeling that they’re mostly padding, but it’s a solid role and she doesn’t mess it up.
There are a lot of great character actors in this movie (and 50 Cent) and they all do really well (except 50 Cent) even though they speak entirely in generic police procedural jargon.
The Frozen Ground is slightly above-average quality for a true story movie, but it suffers from all the problems of the genre: sparse plot, dearth of character depth, stilted dialogue, a “just the facts” approach” to the story, and an annoyingly self-serious tone. But on the other hand it was competently acted and while I was never captivated, I also wasn’t bored. If you like this kind of thing then I’d say it’s a rent, if not maybe just track down a documentary on Robert Hansen.
The disc has got quite a lot of special features, few of which are worthwhile. There’s an interview with almost every cast member in here and none of them have much of interest to say, the same goes with the the crew. Even the commentary with director/writer Scott Walker and two of the producers has very little of note worth your time. There’s some deleted scenes and some trailers but special features kind of need to be based on a good movie to be worth the time and this one fails in both regards.
The disc is presented in 16×9 1080p Widescreen 2.40:1 with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, the disc has optional English and Spanish subtitles. There is an insert with a code to add the movie to your Ultraviolet account in the cloud.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars