FiLM REViEW: Frozen Ground, 2013

This movie tells the story of the infamous ‘butcher baker’ of Anchorage (Alaska), Robert Hansen. John Cusack plays the killer.

Sadly, as with most movies of this sort, they take great liberties with the story, for the sake of making a slicker movie. I can see why film-makers do this stuff, but it is a shame. And it has the effect of potentially muddying knowledge of the real events.

Incidentally, for me personally there’s a big dose of irony here, in that the main copper is played by Nicolas Cage. And I recently lamented the fact I keep watching movies with him in, despite many of them being appalling turkeys. This is fortunately one of the better ones.

The film starts with a scene that’s fairly true to life, when ‘the one that got away’, Cindy Paulson, er… gets away. Cindy, played by Vanessa Hudgens, was coached on the role by Paulson. From there on in a rather complex fiction is woven around her, which is where the film diverges from fact into fiction.

This whole thread reaches a kind of climax in a scene where ‘Bob’ Hansen and ‘Sgt Jack Halcombe’ (Cage’s cop, somewhat based on real fuzz Glenn Nothe) are both hunting Cindy, in a sleazy nightclub/sex-joint. It’s a clever conceit, because that’s what got Hansen off, hunting his victims like he hunted game.

The bleak washed out Alaskan settings lend themselves to the cold grey near monochrome aesthetic the film favours. The Frozen Ground works very well as ‘good watching’; well shot and structured, with a decent cast. It’s a shame they fiddled with the facts as much as they did, and somehow the depth and length of the case, despite being referenced numerous times, feels weaker than I’d have liked.

Cusack, a very capable actor, is pretty good as Hansen, but I think they ought to have had more about how and why he wound up doing what he did. His characterisation here is a bit thin. And only having the thinnest of allusions to his raison d’etre adds to that lack of depth.

The top line cast are good, but the lower ranks, in the fleshpots scenes in particular (these include rapper, Fiddy-Cents!), struck me as a bit formulaic. Apparently The Frozen Ground was a flop when it came out. But it’s proved popular on subscription channels. Far from perfect, it is pretty decent, and I like it.

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