The Frozen Ground is a film about the hunt to catch real-life serial killer Robert Hansen. He was an Alaskan man that kidnapped and killed between 17 and 21 girls. Frozen Ground, out on Blu-ray Oct. 1, tracks the police investigation that caught the killer and shows us both the maniac’s perspective and that of the heroic police officers working through the night to catch him.
It’s an important story worth telling right. Frozen Ground doesn’t quite hit the mark, unfortunately.
Nicolas Cage stars as Jack Halcombe. He’s the lead detective on the case. Like every other cop movie in the world, he’s ready to retire and he’s consumed by the case, especially after he meets a young girl named Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens). She is the only victim to have escaped from Hansen.
The film follows Halcombe as he fights bureaucracy and navigates the Alaskan underworld to find Hansen (John Cusack) and protect young Cindy. Cut into the movie are an equal number of scenes showing Cusack as Hansen both portraying the normal Alaskan neighbor to his friends and family and inflicting awful pain on his victims.
As I said before, The Frozen Ground is a great story that very much should be told. There’s Detective Halcombe’s unrelenting labor put into the case and his sureness of Hansen’s guilt. The there’s the young Cindy Paulson’s struggle of turning her life around and deciding between doing the right thing or going back to her old ways. And finally there is Hansen: another killer with the day-to-day personality of an average man.
However, despite being an important story, The Frozen Ground falters because it’s too average and typical in its storytelling. It wants to be like other crime thrillers like Seven, but it doesn’t have the originality to hit any different beats or find new angles to examine the story and characters from.
This is not to say the movie is terrible. The highlights are the central performances. Cage and Cusack are really solid, and their scenes together add up to some of the best work either actor has done in a very long time. Those moments are electrifying. Even Hudgens brings across the struggle of her victim in the face of true evil in the form of both of her past life and her past torturer.
Another problem with the film is director Scott Walker’s way of shooting the scenes for his separate characters. You feel personality when he is capturing the darker Cusack scenes of torture. Then when he’s shooting the Cage scenes of solving the crime, the film can often times feel flat. We never get the feeling of the absolute deadline labor these detectives are putting in. We never feel the full weight of the frustration and odds they are are facing. It’s something that would have made the film shine brighter. For reference, just check out David Fincher’s Zodiac or Seven.
In the end, Frozen Ground amounts to an extended episode of Law and Order with exceptional performances. Take that how you will. I say it’s worth a Redbox rental or a Netflix watch. This is Walker’s first full-length feature, so it’s understandable that it’s rather average in places where it doesn’t need to be. However, it’s never completely dull and will keep your attention if Law and Order can.
Still, Walker and company should be commended for telling this story and dedicating it to the victims of this brutal man. It’s not a great film, but it’s an average one with a few exceptional qualities that tells an important story of how a few heroes caught and stopped a man who could have killed and hurt far more people.