Sunday, 25 August 2013

Film Review: The Frozen Ground (2013)

Director: Scott Walker
Writer: Scott Walker
Stars: Vanessa Hudgens, Nicolas Cage and Dean Norris

Some films try to be more than their story can allow, and fail to deliver the basic elements. Other films don’t even bother trying at all and fail even more spectacularly. With The Frozen Ground, comes a film which sets out to be an average, nuts and bolts thriller and success admirably in providing a solid, if unspectacular piece of entertainment.

Based on the true story of Robert Hansen (played by John Cusack) who murdered at least 17 women (and is suspected of having killed several more) in Alaska in the early 1980, the film’s success lies in it not trying to be a cat-and-mouse thriller with action and car chase interludes to satisfy fans of the genre, but in the focused story of the girl who got away (Vanessa Hudgens) and the surprisingly well-crafted relationship between her and the lead investigator (Nicolas Cage). For a film about a notorious serial murderer, first-time director Scott Walker avoids turning his film into a cheap ‘guts and gore’ exercise and demonstrates a genuine respect for the story and the victims.

For a 2013 release the film benefits from the early 1980s period allowing it to be character-led and showing the procedural of the police work of the time, and sparing the audience from any Google searches, hi-tech surveillance equipment, or Skype conversations on laptops which so often force their way into screenplays these days. Furthermore the setting of Alaska is a nice change from the usual cityscapes we see in manhunt thrillers, with Walker creating a bleak, seedy, and cold atmosphere throughout and unrelentingly sticks to this tone without going to unrealistic extremes to break the ‘true story’ plot devise. The camerawork is steady throughout with the exception of a few handheld scenes which tend to draw attention to themselves and might not be best suited for a film so grounded as this; otherwise this is a solid debut from Walker.

Like the director, the cast is solid throughout but it is Vanessa Hudgens who stands out in the role of the young prostitute who helps Nicolas Cage’s character with his investigations; the film lives and dies on the believability of this character and the actor’s ability to convince she’s been through hell at the hands of Hansen yet is by no means a reformed girl just because she has survived. Hudgens shows depth and a level of maturity one might not expect considering her previous roles. Special mention, however, must go to Nicolas Cage for breaking his four year and eight film crap streak; The Frozen Ground marks Cage’s first decent film since 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans and whilst this is nowhere near the brilliance of that film, nor does it offer Cage much to really showcase his talents, it is a damn sight better than the likes of Drive Angry, Trespass, Stolen, and Season of the Witch.

Stop thinking for yourself: The Frozen Ground rarely quickens the pulse and there aren’t any standout scenes which will live long in the memory, but it knows its overall goal and it works well within its limitations. Nicolas Cage deserves more, but this is a good sign he may be on the way back to former glories, and for that The Frozen Ground comes recommended.

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