Scott Walker’s feature film debut as writer and director is The Frozen Ground, based on the true story of Robert Hansen, probably the worst serial killer in the history of Alaska. Movies in this genre are very easy to get engrossed in, and this is no exception. It is an auspicious beginning for a clearly talented writer/director.
Nicolas Cage is “Jack Holcombe (fictional character based on a real person)” an Alaska State Trooper who is about to leave the force for a job with regular hours and better pay. His wife “Allie” (Radha Mitchell) has already quit her job and they are only two weeks away from leaving when “Cindy Paulson (not a fictional character, played by Vanessa Hudgens)” comes into his life.
She is a prostitute who was raped and chained up by her attacker, but managed to escape before he could return and do whatever he was planning to do. She can identify him, but wants no part of the investigation. She trusts no one. Jack was just handed a murder investigation involving a body found in a remote, frozen region and he suspects there is a connection between the victim and Cindy.
Soon the investigation turns toward “Robert Hansen” (John Cusack), who owns a local bakery and is a “good guy”, “family man” and the person one might least suspect to be a serial killer. The fact that he is, and that he learns that Cindy got away and could identify him worries him quite a bit. He sets about locating and eliminating her. That isn’t going to stop him from continue to engage in his hobby of kidnapping, raping and then hunting the women he chooses as his victims.
Eventually a few random matters put Hansen on the radar of Sergeant Holcombe and then the hunter becomes the hunted. Will Holcombe get the goods on Hansen so that he doesn’t escape justice. Without giving too much away, let’s just say it is not going to be an easy task. Cindy won’t be helping by choosing to run away from Sergeant Holcombe’s attempts to protect her.
Nicolas Cage is better in this film than he has been in other films in recent years. He isn’t up to the level of his amazing awesomeness in 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas, but it’s a solid bit of work for him. Vanessa Hudgens is miscast and does her best, but the role is beyond her. On the other hand, John Cusack brings out nearly enough evil to reach the malevolence of the real serial killer he is portraying.
The script is solid enough, especially in light of the writer/director’s apparent attempt to minimize the amount of artistic license taken to make the real story cinematic while maintaining at least some of the horror of what this man did to his victims. The scenery is certainly authentic in appearance and there are no moments where you’re be tempted to look at your watch. Alright, alright, maybe there are one or two.
The only serious flaw is that on the surface, this movie seems to be nothing more than an hour long police procedural drama made for television, telescoped out to 105 minutes and taken to the big screen. It’s an easy impression to get, but if you take the time to watch this film, it’s more than that.