Director: Scott Walker
Writer: Scott Walker
Producer: Mark Ordesky, Jane Fleming, Randall Emmett, Curtis Jackson, Remington Chase, Jeff Rice
Stars: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kevin Dunn, Radha Mitchell, 50 Cent
An Alaskan State Trooper hunts serial killer Robert Hansen with the help of a woman who narrowly escaped being his next victim.
In the spectrum of serial killer biopics presented as action-oriented docudramas, “The Frozen Ground” ranks low on the list in terms of both entertainment and informational value. Possessing all of the hallmarks that give it the polished appearance of a modest budget Hollywood feature, the film is still a formulaic potboiler whose chills come from the frigid setting as opposed to the onscreen drama.
Played by John Cusack in the movie, Robert Hansen was a real serial killer who preyed upon numerous Alaskan women before his capture and incarceration in 1983. As a dramatized character, Hansen is underdeveloped. His characterization is delivered in the form of superficial details about his community standing and bakery business along with notes and facts about his family life and routine activities. What brief flashes there are into his criminal mind are so few and far between that he teeters towards nonthreatening even when he is about to commit a murder.
“The Frozen Ground” starts behind the eight ball by beginning at a point in the story when Robert Hansen has already been identified and he almost immediately becomes the top suspect in a string of similar cases. Absent is any mystery to the investigation as a whodunit or as a gripping procedural.
Somewhat untouchable by the authorities as a respected citizen, Hansen also operates in plain sight, negating the potential for suspense in having to hunt him down. A race to capture Hansen thus becomes a matter of when instead of if. The investigators only need to prove a link between him and his crimes by reviewing files and conducting interviews behind the scenes.
Following in the footsteps of other child actors eager to shred their good girl images, former Disney star Vanessa Hudgens trades mouse ears for lace panties and a brass pole as a resilient hooker turned troubled stripper. Being the only known survivor to escape Hansen’s clutches, she teams with Nicolas Cage as a state trooper in an effort to take Hansen down. Hudgens and Cage are more than capable in their roles, but their characters are too flat to allow either one an opportunity for creating unique personas. Cage’s lawman is burdened with the case despite the trope of having only two weeks left on the job. He spends his performance in a state of perpetual pensiveness with either a vertical line between his eyebrows or a horizontal one on his forehead.
Dean Norris, Radha Mitchell, Kevin Dunn, and several others fill out a solid cast of misspent supporting roles that have very little to do. Most of the scenes are loaded to the gills with expository information and fast-paced dialogue. “The Frozen Ground” tries to disguise the abundant talking heads moments by pulling an Aaron Sorkin and having the scenes play while the characters are moving quickly to go somewhere else.
Knowing that the slice of the “true story” chosen for the film’s focus is a relatively mild chapter, artistic liberties are taken with the facts to inject some forced action into the final reel. Even though Cindy Paulson already identified Hansen as her abductor and nothing ever came of it, he strangely risks exposure by embarking on a mission to stalk her once again. Despite the fact that she no longer poses a threat, this twist involves a contracted hitman, a turncoat pimp, and a police pursuit that is ridiculously contrived, not to mention completely fabricated.
The indecisive structure of “The Frozen Ground” makes it a clash of confused threads that do not play nice with each other as a singular narrative. The movie has difficulty choosing from a portrayal of police bureaucracy impeding the capture of a criminal, Nicolas Cage as a torn family man, the redemption of a young hooker, and the tale of a killer. The head-on crash of all four together makes for an average thriller elevated by its performances, but sunk by a misdirected screenplay.
Review Score: 55