This movie gave Judge Clark Douglas brain freeze.
The hunt for Alaska's most prolific serial killer.
"He stalks them like his next trophy animal, he rapes them and kills them. He's probably doing it right now."
Facts of the Case
For over a decade, Robert Hansen (John Cusack, High Fidelity) has been kidnapping, raping and murdering young women in Alaska. Due to his careful planning, he's managed to avoid the police, but recently a young prostitute named Cindy managed to escape his grip and report Hansen to the police. Unfortunately, the police refuse to believe Cindy due to both a lack of supporting evidence and their bias against women in her profession. However, there's one man who believes her story: Detective Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage, National Treasure), who's determined to put a stop to Hansen's rampage at any cost. Will Jack be able to win Cindy's trust and bring down one of the most dangerous individuals in the country?
America has long been obsessed with serial killers, but it seems to have hit a peak in recent years. Seemingly every other television show has a serial killer at its center, and there are countless movies detailing the hunt for yet another psycho on a killing spree. I'm not opposed to entertainment built around serial killers—indeed, the review I wrote just before this one was filled with praise for the exceptional NBC drama Hannibal—but the fact that there's just such a huge amount of it is overwhelming and a little disturbing. How many of these stories do we really need? Why is this particular subgenre such an endless source of fascination for us? The best serial killer thrillers transcend the details of the plot and manage to say something more (consider Hitchcock's Psycho or Fincher's Zodiac). The good ones at least manage to be well-crafted, suspenseful procedurals. However, far too many films and shows dealing with this subject matter are content to exploit the suffering of others for the sake of churning out cheap sensationalism. The Frozen Ground falls into that last category, delivering a film that is bland at best and exceptionally ugly at worst. It's a thriller for the Criminal Minds crowd: a film that tosses righteous outrage in the direction of the killer at its center while simultaneously reveling in the nastiness of that killer's actions.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that the film needed to shy away from the awfulness of what Robert Hansen did—he's a real guy who actually did all of these things. However, something about the manner in which Hansen's actions were presented made me exceptionally uncomfortable. The scenes in which Hansen's victims are seen crying and pleading for their life feel more like attempts to juice up the shock value of the film than a legitimate effort to help viewers understand just how evil Hansen was. That's partially because the movie shows far more interest in recreating these scenes in grisly detail than it does in anything like character development. Cage is playing a good guy, Cusack is playing a bad guy and Hudgens is playing a frightened victim, but that's about as deep as it goes. The film seems bored with itself when it's going through the motions of its "character-driven" scenes (such as a pair of poorly written conversations Cage has with his wife, played by the reliable Radha Mitchell), but fully engaged when it's watching Cusack hunt down and murder a sobbing young woman fleeing for her life. One can only speculate about the filmmaker's true motivations—for all I know, they set out to make this movie for entirely noble reasons—but the end result still makes you want to take a shower afterwards. I can't tell you how much it bugged me when the end credits underscored pictures of Hansen's real-life victims with a cheesy rock song.
Anyway, even if you find my frustratingly hazy moral objections to the film irrelevant, there are plenty of more basic reasons to avoid seeing The Frozen Ground. This is a thoroughly formulaic thriller that seems like a chore for just about everyone involved; I can't remember the last time Nicolas Cage seemed this bored in a role (and he's seemed awfully bored with quite a few of his recent roles). The actors involved are either slumming A-listers (Cage and Cusack, though the latter springs to life during a third-act interrogation room sequence and comes kind of close to turning into an interesting character), overqualified character actors (Mitchell, Dean Norris of Breaking Bad and Kevin Dunn of Luck) or underqualified (Hudgens' efforts to shed her High School Musical reputation remain underwhelming, while Curtis Jackson—playing a pimp with a ridiculous haircut—reminds us that he's only able to continue getting acting roles because he's 50 Cent). Director Scott Walker overplays everything, zooming in for extreme close-ups, employing a bombastic and obnoxious Lorne Balfe score and generally treating every moment as if it were the film's climax.
The Frozen Ground (Blu-ray) has received a solid 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. The film's palette is largely grim and desaturated, as Walker seems to have made an effort to make things look as gritty and grimy as possible. As such, detail is occasionally lost, but it's still pretty solid. Depth is stellar throughout, too. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track gets the job done, though as I noted before, the music is cranked up to an obnoxiously loud degree at times. However, that's a complaint with the film itself rather than the quality of the mix. Sound design is well-captured and dialogue is clean. Supplements include a commentary with Walker and producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming, three featurettes ("Examining The Frozen Ground," "Writing The Frozen Ground" and "Anatomy of a Serial Killer"), some extended interviews with the cast and some deleted scenes with optional commentary from Walker.
It's a shame that Cusack and Cage—both gifted actors when they're focused—have been reduced to starring in bargain bin garbage like The Frozen Ground. Skip it.
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