The Frozen Ground Review
by Daniel Rester
Crime stories that are based on true stories are a dime a dozen in modern times. While the majority of them are forgettable, they usually do still manage to grip and entertain the audience in ways. Latest example: The Frozen Ground.
Ground tells the “true story” of Glenn Flothe, who is called Jack Halcombe in the film and is played by Nicolas Cage. Flothe, or Halcombe, helped to catch serial killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack, who really does look a lot like Hansen) in the early 1980s. Hansen ultimately murdered between 17 and 21 women near Anchorage, Alaska. A young woman named Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) aided Flothe in capturing Hansen, as the female escaped from him in 1983.
Paulson was a prostitute who was offered $200 dollars from Hansen to perform oral sex on him. However, he actually chained her to a post in his house, where he would torture and sexually assault her. After trying to put her on his plane and “take her out to his cabin,” Paulson was able to break free and eventually help Flothe.
Ground is just as occasionally dreary and formulaic as the next serial killer drama, but it’s grounded and well-crafted nonetheless. There are masterful crime dramas of this kind, like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Se7en (1995), but those are the rarities; Ground sits next to the rest. But Ground is still a notch above average thanks to the stars and first-time writer-director Scott Walker’s confidence.
Walker does a fine job at telling the story, though it falls back on expected clichés (of course Cage’s character is about to move away from the town with his family before getting the mission) from time to time and has an overdone climax. But what Walker gets right is keeping things tonally consistent, giving the three main characters some interesting layers, and making the locations characters themselves at times (the mountains and forests are beautiful and the towns are seedy). He also lets the actors be skillful without being showy, allowing for welcome subtlety in key scenes.
Speaking of subtly, Cage isn’t exactly known for it nowadays. But the usually over-the-top actor tones it down here, delivering a solid performance and reminding the audience of the great things he can do when given the right material. Hudgens, though too weepy at times, also impresses in her supporting part; she brings the fire and fear that are necessary for the character. And it is interesting to see Cusack in his turn as Hansen. The actor is creepy, applying a small stutter and stinging glances in the role, and it is entertaining when he and Cage have a verbal showdown in a holding room (the two actors haven’t been on the screen together since the silly Con Air (1997)). Also joining the cast are such actors as Dean Norris, Radha Mitchell, and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson (who has a hilarious shoulder-length hairdo in his small role as a pimp).
Ground may be a bit too simple at times, but it has enough strong aspects to make it worth a view. The atmosphere of the film is fittingly chilly, and the actors bring good efforts in their approaches. It will also be interesting to see what Walker does next.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B)