The Frozen Ground

Director: Scott Walker (2013)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens
Find it: IMDB

Nicolas Cage is almost-retired cop Jack Halcolmbe, working hard to bring serial killer Robert Hansen (Cusack) to justice after the man kidnaps, tortures and murders a number of young women, flying them away in his little aeroplane and burying them far away from prying eyes. When prostitute Cyndy Paulsen (Hudgens!) comes forward with evidence that could get Halcolmbe his search warrant and conviction, the cop must attempt to earn her trust before the killer can strikes again.

A true story about a real-life serial killer and his victims, starring Nicolas Cage as the man responsible for bringing Robert Hansen to justice? Fan as I am of The Cage, this could have gone terribly wrong - after all, serial killer biopics are hardly the place for bizarre screeching, gurning and bad hair. Thankfully, for respectability's sake, that's not what we get with The Frozen Ground. Cage gives his most restrained performance in years, playing Halcombe as grim, stoic but good-hearted. Even the hair isn't too bad. Cusack, meanwhile, fascinates as the monster of the piece, playing a role miles away from his usual comfort zone. This reunion doesn't have quite the same bombast or quotability as their Con Air, but both men are better here than they have been in years.

Cage and Cusack may be the stars, but The Frozen Ground doesn't skimp on its talent elsewhere. Indeed, its cast might be one of the most bizarre I've ever seen in a crime thriller. There's Vanessa Hudgens (actually very good) as traumatised Cyndy, Radha Mitchell (always great) as Halcombe's wife, Hank from Breaking Bad as another cop, Transformers dad Kevin Dunn as a police Lieutenant... and 50 Cent as Cyndy's pimp. Mister Cent is, of course, completely awful, but is only in about two scenes, so doesn't get to distract from much.

By cluing the audience and its hero in on the killer's identity from the start, there's a directness to the story and sense of urgency which remains throughout; well-paced and fraught with tension, even during the characters' downtime. Some Nicolas Cage aficionados may be disappointed in his dialing it back here, but in his doing so, The Frozen Ground becomes one of his best films in recent years.

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