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John Cusack and Nicolas Cage shed their familiar screen personae in The Frozen Ground, portraying real-world serial killer Robert Hansen and a detective on his trail in performances whose lack of affectation surely results from the sobering nature of the story: Hansen is thought to have killed nearly two dozen young women during the late ’70s and early ’80s. Unfortunately, writer-director Scott Walker‘s film is a muddled and strangely inert one, generating little of the suspense or anguish its subject requires; despite its high-profile cast, the long-delayed film won’t last long in theatrical bookings.
Focusing only on the events leading to Hansen’s capture, the script offers a fictionalized Anchorage cop (Cage’s Jack Halcombe), but uses the real name of the teenaged prostitute, Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens), who escaped from Hansen and whose claims about being raped and imprisoned helped detectives connect him to missing-person cases abandoned years before.
Closing titles say of Paulson, “This is the first time she has told her story,” which may explain the script’s lopsided emphasis on her character: While it glosses over some key procedural elements with flat expository dialogue (we don’t even see the first encounters between Hansen and police after Paulson accuses him), we witness a great deal of her story — a sad but too-familiar tale of abuse leading to drugs, stripping and prostitution.
Walker’s also not afraid of cliches on the other side: Halcombe is a cop so obsessed with his job he has had to promise his long-suffering wife (Radha Mitchell) to give it up; he’s in his last weeks as a badge-holder when he catches the case. Naturally, none of his superiors believe his hunches, prosecutors don’t want to give him search warrants, etcetera. Cage goes through these motions with dignity, a job made harder by Hudgens’ unconvincing performance as the wounded tough girl who alternately begs for help and runs when it’s offered.
On the other side is Cusack, who doesn’t use the playbook employed by most actors in similar roles. Hansen wasn’t a recluse but a family man, troubled but sociable in his community. Cusack’s quiet, matter-of-fact performance is intriguing, and however it may compare to the actual man, one wishes the film found time to show more of it.
Tech values are competent, though Lorne Balfe‘s overheated score is sometimes distracting in its attempt to generate the emotions Walker’s direction can’t produce.
Production Company: Cheetah Vision Films
Cast: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kevin Dunn, Olga Valentina, Michael McGrady, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Kurt Fuller, Brad William Henke, Katherine LaNasa, Ryan O’Nan, Matt Gerald, Radha Mitchell, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Director-Screenwriter: Scott Walker
Producers: Mark Ordesky, Jane Fleming, Randall Emmett, Curtis Jackson, Remington Chase, Jeff Rice
Executive producers: George Furla, Stepan Martirosyan, Kevin Frakes, Martin Blencowe, Mark Stewart, Brandt Andersen, Brett Granstaff, Corey Large, Ted Fox, Elisa Salinas, Daniel Wagner, Fredrik Malmberg, Olga Valentina, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb
Director of photography: Patrick Murguia
Production designer: Clark Hunter
Music: Lorne Balfe
Costume designer: Lynn Falconer
Editor: Sarah Boyd
R, 105 minutes
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