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Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Frozen Ground

There were some good movies released this week. This was not one of them.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Based on the true story of one of America's most deadly serial killers, Jack Holcombe is an Alaskan state trooper who knows that the widely respected Robert Hansen is a brutal serial killer who kidnaps, rapes then murders women but he doesn't have the evidence to prove it. That changes however, when Cindy Paulson becomes the only woman to ever escape Hansen's clutches, but can Holcombe get her to come forward and confront a killer or will she simply vanish into a seedy, self-destructive life of prostitution and drugs?

What we thought

As serial killer stories go, the one that Frozen Ground is attempting to tell isn't necessarily original but it's a good solid true-life crime story that should make a good true-life crime film. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Not by a long shot. Despite a solid premise, good actors and fittingly icey visuals, The Frozen Ground is an incredibly boring, monotonous film that somehow feels less authentic and believable than purely fictional crime dramas.

Not to be confused with the singer or, apparently, the politician, the film's writer/ director is newcomer Scott Walker who clearly has a knack for impressive visuals and working with veteran and newbie actors but his storytelling leaves a lot to be desired. Admittedly, those who are fans of monotonous procedural crime shows like CSI might find more to like in The Frozen Ground than I did, but I found the film's fidelity to the procedural facts of the case, resulted in a film that's in desperate need of even adequately defined characters and a sense of drama or suspense. Also being paced slightly faster than molasses in winter would have been a welcome improvement too. Being icy is one thing; frozen stiff quite another.

There is some good news, though. Vanessa Hudgens proves herself to be a surprisingly effective Troubled Young Woman, even if her character herself is one of the dumbest people to hit our screen in some time. It's hard to believe that the real person she is based on could be this reckless and this persistently, almost intentionally stupid if she was indeed the only potential victim to escape this master criminal.

As this master criminal, John Cusack is very effective – it's amazing how well a guy who is best known for playing ordinary everymen can so brilliantly convince as a cold, calculating psychopath – but, again, the film fails him by neither making his very identity as the murderer a mystery or at least casting some sort of doubt on the guy's guilt. As it is, it's a very strong performance robbed of any suspense or intrigue.

Finally, completing our triumvirate of crappy characters is Nicholas Cage as the film's hero, the upstanding, hardworking crime fighter, Jack Holcombe. Many have called Cage's performance here his most subtle in years but I think it's one of his most underwhelming. Regardless of the film, whether it's Drive Angry or Leaving Las Vegas, Cage's very particular manic energy is the very thing that makes him such a compelling screen presence so casting him here as a very straight laced good guy who could have been played by literally anybody seems like, at best, an odd decision.

It doesn't matter how good the particular actors are or how moodily atmospheric the film is though, it's a total dud as a piece of storytelling. It's uninteresting, emotionally unengaging, poorly written, sluggishly paced and utterly humourless. It's one thing for a crime movie to be one of these things, but all of them at the same time? That's just unforgivable.


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