Director: Scott Walker
Cast: Nicholas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, 50 Cent, Dean Norris
Running time: 105 minutes
Depicts the true life tale of an obsessed Alaskan State Trooper (Cage) on a mission to hunt and capture the serial killer Robert Hanson (John Cusack), through help from one of his escaped victims (Hudgens).
Tucked away amid the vast platter of summer blockbusters that we’ve both enjoyed and despised over the last couple of months, there are always smaller, interesting pictures to be found. If you’ve had your pleasant fill of those big, loud explodey films, or perhaps just fancy a change for one night, you might enjoy seeking out something like writer/director Scott Walker’s feature debut The Frozen Ground, a taut, tense little thriller with an A-list cast.
It’s the Con Air reunion the world’s been waiting for! Well, not really. Set against the rural backdrop of 1980s Alaska, The Frozen Ground is quick to immerse us in its world and set the bleak tone which hangs throughout. As very much a character-led drama, with the three leads playing off each other fantastically, the majority of the screen time pits Cage and Hudgens together as the former struggles to get information out of the wild-card latter that would help him break the case. Cage, as tired, somber, soon-to-retire State Trooper Jack Halcombe, is very reigned in here, compared to what we know and (sometimes) love. It’s easy to forget that he can actually be a pretty decent actor when controlled, rather than simply the entertainer with which his fame hangs. Vanessa Hudgens is actually quite fantastic. She continues to impress after her surprisingly good turn in the average Spring Breakers, leaving behind her ‘pretty girl’ High School Musical status to take on more serious, demanding roles. And then, of course, there’s the aforementioned Con Air reunion of Cage and Cusack. Does this pairing live up to the first one? Not quite; Con Air’s amazing, but Cusack is absolutely brilliant here, portraying real-life serial murderer Robert Hansen. We believe for every single frame that there’s something wrong there, that his mind’s working like a psychotic. During one particular scene involving an interrogation, I genuinely felt like I was watching the real person. Cusack’s stutters and denials sound so genuine, as if he’s actually the one under the microscope and this is a real police video.
Yet not everything works entirely. The cop’s imminent retirement but not until he cracks this one last case is a generic genre trope we’ve all seen so many times, and applied to Halcombe it just feels too much like an attempt to force unnecessary sympathy on the character. I don’t know whether the real Jack Halcombe was indeed only two weeks away from retirement when he worked this case – if so shut me up – but dramatically it felt very forced. Then 50 Cent shows up as a pimp with a V For Vendetta haircut. Ahem…
There doesn’t seem to be much awareness over this film, and the critical reception has been lukewarm at best, but I enjoyed myself. A tense, dark little thriller that creates atmosphere nicely and uses big stars in a more controlled, confined way. It will be on DVD/blu-ray soon enough, but if you have a free evening, why not go along and check it out.