Cage Match

Nic Cage finds the bodies in The Frozen Ground.

The Frozen Ground
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The Frozen Ground

Release year: 2013 Posted June 15, 2014

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

Aristotle

The Frozen Ground is a procedural crime drama with snappy pacing and good acting. It lands squarely between The Silence of the Lambs and Zodiac, combining the suspense of the former with the U.S. legal system dysfunction of the latter. Though not an Oscar contender, The Frozen Ground was satisfying, which is more than you can say about most movies today.

Based on the true story of the hunt for an Alaskan serial killer, The Frozen Ground sticks surprisingly close to actual events. A mild-mannered baker named Robert Hansen (played with perfect creepiness by John Cusack) turns out to be a serial killer who targets prostitutes. His latest victim (played with surprising credibility by one-time Disney “it” girl Vanessa Hudgens) manages to escape, and reluctantly becomes the key to stopping Hansen. His pursuer, Alaska state trooper Jack Halcombe, is portrayed by our hero Nicolas Cage.

Once again, Nic does a credible job. He’s cast in a role that was sure to play to his strengths: a law officer, days away from retirement, tracking down a serial killer. Stock characters like this are his métier and he gives them such credibility that the audience can’t help but embrace his earnest portrayal.

As reality-based as this movie is, Cage’s Jack Halcombe is fictional—though loosely inspired by Glenn Flothe, the real-life cop who compiled the evidence to take down Hansen. As Cage says in this interview about The Frozen Ground, Frothe is a private person who didn’t want to be involved in the movie. Nic goes on to talk about his interest in distinguishing “operatic performance” from more realistic portrayals too. It’s an interesting interview.

Accordingly, in The Frozen Ground, Nic scales back much of his mania. This is a boon to the performances of Cusack and Hudgens, allowing them to chew scenery where appropriate. You can clearly see how he picks and tunes his dramatic scale. He certainly has big moments (loudly demanding a warrant to search Hansen’s house comes to mind); but as in Raising Arizona, Nic remembers that sometimes the best thing to do is support your fellow players.

The setup, though formulaic, is well executed. In a way this movie is a reversal of Con Air, but this time with Cage pursuing Cusack, which is much more fitting. Despite whatever fond memories you have of Say Anything and High Fidelity, Cusack works better as a stuttering, milquetoast, creepy killer of hookers than as a romantic lead.

Movie?
Good
Nic Cage’s acting?
Good!
Did his performance make the movie worse?
Not at all