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The Tao of Nicolas Cage: In ‘The Frozen Ground’ Cage Hunts to Bring a Killer Down

Cage heads to the wintery wilderness of Alaska to track down a creepy serial killer played by John Cusack.
By  · Published on September 14th, 2017

Cage heads to the wintery wilderness of Alaska to track down a creepy serial killer played by John Cusack in The Frozen Ground.

“You know, he stalks them like his next trophy animal, he rapes them and kills them. He is probably doing it right now. We don’t have a few days!”

When The Frozen Ground was released a few years back I was really eager to see it. Nic Cage in a true crime thriller sharing the screen with John Cusack — an actor that is sort of Cage-like in many ways — sounds like my cup of tea. For some strange reason I never actually got around to seeing it. I purchased the Blu-ray when it was released and yet the film just sat on my shelf somewhere between Face/Off and FX2. Why did it just sit there? I cannot say, but this week I finally put it in my Blu-ray player.

In the film Cage stars as Alaska State Trooper Jack Halcombe and he’s in his final two weeks on the job. This is a big deal because if movies have taught me anything it’s that whenever a cop is nearing retirement he is surely to get saddled with his biggest, most difficult case yet. And what do you know, Halcombe is called in to investigate the remains of a dead body and he unravels something much bigger.

The body found is that of an unidentified female and what’s leftover has been half eaten by bears. Further investigation ties the body to a string of missing girls that goes back more than a decade. As Halcombe digs deeper he discovers that the police have a very strong suspect in Robert Hansen (John Cusack) but the Anchorage Police Department has chosen not to properly investigate. With the help Hansen’s only victim to escape, 17-year-old Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens), and against the APD’s request, Halcombe is determined to put Hansen behind bars.

Since watching The Frozen Ground I’ve been struggling to decide how I feel about it. The story is a fascinating one. The real life Robert Hansen was a horrendously sick and twisted individual. For the most part The Frozen Ground is pretty faithful to the true events — as best I can tell — but it does stretch some of the facts to better fit the film’s needs. This doesn’t bother me as I’m a big advocate of a film doing what is best for the film. Source material, whether it be a true story or novel or whatever, should merely serve as a guide. So in that regards, the film works.

I also enjoy the performances. I think Cage is very good as the Alaska State Trooper. He’s more subdued and not off-the-wall like he is in other police roles. I don’t want to say he’s more serious or sincere because I believe he’s always sincere and takes every role seriously, but this is a more straightforward approach. He plays this in the way that I think most A-list actors would take the role. It’s a good honest performance.

With that said I kind of wish Cage would have played Hansen. Cage doesn’t though.

“Originally they wanted me to play Hansen but I just didn’t want to go there,” Cage told Film Freak in an interview on The Frozen Ground. “It gave me a chance to try a different, return to a different a different style of film acting. You know I’ve been exploring a lot of that sort of what I call outside-the-box acting, more operatic, more surrealistic, more abstract, push the natural bounds into something artistic, creative and don’t get trapped but it occurred to me that now was a good time to return a more minimal, documentary style of film performance, just so I can make the other ones look a little better.”

I get Cage’s logic and for the role he was playing I believe he made the right decision, but man it would have been great to see his operatic approach as the film’s villain. I suppose the fact that this is based on a true story and the villain being portrayed was a real-life serial killer would have made a more outside-the-box approach in poor taste. I still can’t help but wonder what Cage’s take would have been like.

And in the defense of Cusack I think he’s fine as Hansen. The performance isn’t anything special but it gets the job done and his portrayal of Hansen is genuinely creepy at times.

I think my biggest issue with the film is the style. The film was shot with a handheld approach, at least most of it, and it’s very distracting. There are a number of real tight in shots with nothing really in focus and the camera is constantly moving. It’s shot more like a documentary and I found it to be distracting.

Cage and I once again don’t see eye-to-eye.

“He didn’t do anything to make it exploitation or gratuitous,” Cage told Film Freak. “He just wanted to state the facts in a very kind of stark, ‘frozen ground’ documentary style movie and that made it even more horrifying because it did happen.”

Again, I understand Cage’s logic. The film is a true crime film, why not make it as realistic as possible? Because it’s distracting, which is what I already said. So why are you fighting with me, Nic? A straight narrative approach would have served the story better.

There’s an interrogation scene that I think is a great example of what I’m talking about. I think Cage and Cusack are at their best in this scene but the camera kills me. It’s too herky-jerky and nothing is framed well. I don’t need all wide shots, but give me some sort of stability. I guess it’s an interesting approach but I don’t think it worked.

The Frozen Ground is an ok movie. In terms of modern Cage films I think it’s something that the average movie goer is likely to enjoy more as compared to say Drive Angry. It’s  a straight forward true crime film and that’s fine, but in Cage’s filmography it’s not nearly memorable enough to be something that I’ll return to very often. I’ll return to it at some point because it’s Cage and I love Cage but it won’t be nearly as often as other films.

Nic Cage the big game hunter?

Cage has actually been in the news quite a bit this week. One of his newest films, Mom and Dad, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and reviews seem to be pretty positive. Of course the premiere of one Cage film means another title must be announced and that’s exactly what happened earlier this week when Variety announced that the Oscar winner has signed onto play in Primal, the first film from upstart Wonderfilm Media. Allegedly Cage is set to play a big game hunter that is out rounding up animals for a zoo. Details are sparse at the moment, but my hope is that if Cage is playing a big game hunter he’s doing so as the film’s villain.

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Chris Coffel is a contributor at Film School Rejects. He’s a connoisseur of Christmas horror, a Nic Cage fanatic, and bad at Rocket League. He can be found on Twitter here: @Chris_Coffel. (He/Him)