The Frozen Ground excels in many areas from a welcomed subtle performance by Nicolas Cage, a mature turn for Vanessa Hudgens and John Cusack playing the thankless role as the creepy and thoroughly disturbing serial killer. However, for all the good acting by the main cast and beautiful, Oscar-worthy, cinematography, it never quite reaches its potential.
Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller
Lionsgate | R – 106 min. – $24.99 | October 1, 2013
Directed by: Scott Walker
Writer(s): Scott Walker (written by)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Olga Valentina, Radha Mitchell, Curtis Jackson, Michael McGrady, Kevin Dunn, Gia Mantegna, Kurt Fuller
Theatrical Release Date: August 23, 2013 (limited)
Features: Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, UltraViolet Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Disc Size: 45.4 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 3.5/5
The Frozen Ground is writer/director Scott Walker’s feature debut and although he doesn’t exactly take advantage of one of the most disturbing stories in American history, and one that I suspect not a lot of people know about (especially compared with someone like the Zodiac killer), but Walker does manage to do one thing: show us that Nicolas Cage still can turn in a good and most importantly, subtle performance. Still, I wonder in the hands of a Fincher or Mann if this would’ve been a better crime-drama…
The story centers on Alaskan State Trooper Jack Holcombe (NICOLAS CAGE) who is tasked to investigate a possible serial killer after the bodies of two young women are found and numerous others, who are prostitutes, are missing. Holcombe’s big break comes from Cindy Paulson (VANESSA HUDGENS) who escaped from the grips of a killer but because she is a streetwalker, she’s not taken seriously by the local detectives, especially when its revealed the man she accuses is a respected businessman in the community, Robert Hansen (JOHN CUSACK). However, one officer goes rogue and sends her file Holcombe’s way.
Holcombe gathers his own team to investigate Hansen and discovers disturbing information that Hansen had been arrested in the past for assault and kidnapping years before but served little time. However, other than the word of Paulson, who still is on the streets and begins working at a strip club, the local D.A. (KURT FULLER) will not move on Hansen without more than circumstantial evidence.
In the meantime, Hansen is still up to his ways and has kidnapped another prostitute (GIA MANTEGNA) as we see his modus operandi of chaining the women in his basement, degrading them and eventually flying them off to the wilderness, hunting them down and ultimately killing them, taking a trophy as a memento. It’s a harrowing sequence but necessary and effectively put together by Walker, perhaps one of the highlights outside of the acting…
Now it’s up to Holcombe to stop Hansen before he takes another victim as well as go after Paulson and finish her off. The plot is pretty much paint-by-numbers and while it’s not as compelling as it could have been, The Frozen Ground does have many things going for it.
In terms of the acting, and this is where I give Walker the most props, is that he actually got Nicolas Cage to turn in an appropriately subtle yet strong performance and even when he does go over the top, it’s proper for that scene, as he interrogates Cusack’s Hansen, and is played so well and Cusack for his part returns the favor and is actually a bit more effective given his, up to that point, limited screen time.
Another surprise is Vanessa Hudgens who continues to grow up and grow out of her High School Musical skin and although there is some scenes where she performs at a strip club, it’s not sensationalized and really brings depth to a character who easily could have been a victim and been done with it. Instead, it shows the downward spiral the character goes on that had started in her childhood.
The supporting cast is also impressive and includes Kevin Dunn as Holcombe’s right-hand man investigating the murders; the lovely Jodi-Lynn O’Keefe is nearly unrecognizable as a woman who brings in women off the street to strip; Radha Mitchell is mostly wasted in a tiny role as Holcombe’s wife and presumably took the role, and trip to Alaska, as a favor to a producer; and Curtis Jackson, who also produced, appeared briefly as a pimp and if not for the laughable hairstyle, even for the 1980s, wasn’t terrible, but again he’s only in the film for a few minutes portraying Paulson’s pimp.
Outside of the acting, the production side of the project is also pretty impressive. First, Patrick Murguia (Brooklyn’s Finest) does a masterful job showcasing Anchorage – the film was made on location – while production designer Clark Hunter (Sling Blade, All the Pretty Horses) does a nice job recreating 1983 Anchorage and its sultry underbelly of strip clubs and street walkers brought on from the oil boom.
Now, all of that sounds like The Frozen Ground should have been one of the better true crime-dramas, however, at the end of the film, I came away knowing more about the case, some of which perpetuated on innuendo than facts (like Hansen taking out a hit on Paulson), but I never found it overly compelling. Instead, it’s a nice movie and technically well made, I do wonder if in the hands of David Fincher, who took innuendo and rumor to a whole new realm with Zodiac (still a fantastic movie), or Michael Mann, master in weaving compelling crime-dramas.
In the end, The Frozen Ground isn’t a bad film, far from it, and one has to give a lot of credit to first-time writer and director Scott Walker for putting together a technically sound flick with three solid performances and absolutely beautiful cinematography taking full advantage of Alaska’s gorgeous landscape. While it should have and could have been better, for a movie “based on a true story”, it’s not too bad and worth a viewing.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.75/5
This release comes with a matted slip cover. Inside is a download code for the UltraViolet Digital Copy.
Audio Commentary – Writer/Director Scott Walker & Producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming offer up a lively and really fascinating commentary track giving some behind-the-scenes tid-bits on how the script was written to filming in and around Anchorage, Alaska. I’m not sure how talented Walker is as a director, but he is a captivating speaker.
Deleted Scenes (8:30; HD) – There are seven scenes reduced or completely axed for one reason or another, though most likely for pacing issues. None of them are particularly great or would’ve added to the film, although there’s a bit more on Hansen’s home life. All include optional commentary.
Examining The Frozen Ground (20:06; HD) is a ‘making-of’ featurette where writer/director Scott Walker and others, including Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens, explain the real life story behind the movie. There’s not much in the way of behind-the-scenes footage and instead footage from the film wrapped around interviews.
Writing The Frozen Ground (14:08; HD) focuses on the screenplay elements and features more extensive interview with Scott Walker about his research into the true story including finding Cindy Paulson.
Extended Interviews (TRT 52:25; HD) is more sound bites from Scott Walker, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Glenn Flothe (the basis for Cage’s character), Kevin Dunn, and Producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming.
Theatrical Trailer (2:33; HD)
Previews – Arbitrage, The Devil’s Double, Margin Call, The Lincoln Lawyer
VIDEO – 4.5/5
The Frozen Ground thaws out on Blu-ray presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and an outstanding 1080p high-definition transfer. The picture looks well defined showing every little bit of Nicolas Cage’s chiseled face and hairline to the 1980s décor and vehicles. The colors seem well balanced and especially impressive are the shadows and blacks which were stark and showed no signs of artifacting or pixilation and instead looked nicely composed. There is a fair amount of noise but it’s not overly abundant or distracting
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t overly aggressive with the majority of the film filled with dialogue which came across as crisp and clear throughout. Where the lossless track does shine is with Lorne Balfe’s haunting score setting up the right atmosphere for the dark and disturbing story. The front and rear channels help expand the environment from the plane engine to the snow fall.
OVERALL – 4.0/5
Nicolas Cage, a mature turn for Vanessa Hudgens and John Cusack playing the thankless role as the creepy and thoroughly disturbing serial killer. However, for all the good acting by the main cast and beautiful, Oscar-worthy, cinematography, it never quite reaches its potential as a compelling true crime-drama despite all the good and, from what I could tell, keeping with some of the facts, though speculation was thrown in to help the dramatic elements. Even so, this is a good movie worth watching. The Blu-ray released by Lionsgate has a fair amount of introspective featurettes, a well done commentary track and excellent audio/video transfers.