Stars: Vanessa Hudgens, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Dean Norris, Radha Mitchell, Katherine LaNasa, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, 50 Cent | Written and Directed by Scott Walker
I watched this film in rather unusual circumstances. The projector at the screening room it was supposed to be shown at broke down, so the other reviewers and I were sent links to watch The Frozen Ground online. So instead of in an air conditioned room with a nice big screen, I watched the film in my boiling hot flat on my very crappy laptop. Actually, to be honest that’s how I watch most films, but it’s not the most cinematic of experiences to be sure – the watermark ‘Koch’ hanging over the lower third of each frame made sure of that – but then it’s not an overly cinematic film.
The Frozen Ground feels very televisual. That’s not really a criticism, especially considering the general quality of a great deal of programming these days. Nicolas Cage stars as the cop on the tail of John Cusack’s murdering rapist in a pretty bleak-looking Anchorage in the eighties. Vanessa Hudgens plays Cusack’s only surviving victim and is the one person that can help Cage bring him to justice. As such, it’s a none-more by-the-numbers police procedural flick. You’ve seen every scene before – the interrogation room provocation, the search of the killer’s home; Cage’s cop is even on the verge of leaving the force after this last case. Again, this isn’t really a criticism. I like police procedurals. They’re like comfort food. What’s slightly different about this one is that the cop, the girl and the audience all know who the killer is pretty much from the beginning of the film – it’s more a case of identifying the evidence that will put him away.
It’s nice to see Cage and Cusack reunited after their work together on the magnificent Con Air. It’s slightly disappointing that it couldn’t be on something similarly frivolous. Both give decent performances. Cage reins it in considerably – this is by no means a return to Bad Lieutenant territory – but his quiet passion works well for the role. Cusack is convincing as a sadistic creep and his normal, lovable sad-sack self is nowhere to be seen. Following Sucker Punch and Spring Breakers, Hudgens has clearly opted for this role to put further distance between her and her Disney-fied past – playing a meth-smoking, pole-dancing prostitute is a pretty good way of doing that. She gives a perfectly fine performance, even if some of the lines she’s been given are somewhat clunky. The pole-dancing scene feels incongruous and rather leery given the film’s depiction of victimised women.
Whilst it’s generally pretty workman-like, The Frozen Ground is elevated by an urgent, tense score by Lorne Balf and some very nice aerial camerawork portraying the Alaskan landscape. Writer and Director Scott Walker’s tale is a true one, which also lends his picture something of a sense of gravitas that it might otherwise lack. The decision to feature pictures of the victims prior to the end credits as soft rock plays in the background undermines this however and feels like a really odd creative choice, kind of like getting Toto to play at a funeral.
The Frozen Ground is released across the Uk from Friday.