Tuesday 30 July 2013

Thin ice: "The Frozen Ground"

The Frozen Ground did the barest minimum to make the UK's Top 10 films last weekend, and - in truth - it does the barest minimum to bring its lipsmacking true story - the pursuit and eventual arrest of Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen - shuffling and shrugging onto the screen. It's saddled itself with now cut-price stars electing to go down the self-effacing character actor route, to the detriment of any wider, more compelling drama: Nicolas Cage, as the detective driven to reopen Hansen's dormant file against the wishes of the local PD, falls back on the frowny sincerity last tried around the time of 1999's 8MM, while John Cusack, whose sweaty scuzzball in the recent The Paperboy suggested a new and semi-intriguing career path, makes the not unintelligent but limiting choice of bland anonymity to play Hansen, the supermarket manager and family man who maintained a fondness for keeping teenage prostitutes chained up in his basement for weeks at a time.

With not much going on front and centre, you'd hope for some life among the supporting cast, but instead we find Radha Mitchell salvaging whatever she can from the cutting-room floor in the non-role of Cage's missus, producer Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson further devaluing his own brand in Jar Jar Binks dreadlocks as - surprise! - a thuggish pimp, and the usually very funny Kurt Fuller stuck behind a beige desk as the Alaskan D.A.. The one performer who comes close to owning their own strand, somewhat unexpectedly, is Vanessa Hudgens, who in the space of just two movies - and The Frozen Ground at least gives her more to play with (and wear) than April's Spring Breakers - appears to have comprehensively trashed her erstwhile Disney starlet image. As Cindy Paulson, the one crack-huffing stripper who survived Hansen's attentions, she's credibly tough and bruised, working through the kind of breakdown many of this actress's contemporaries have played out off-screen.

It's just a pity her performance should be at the mercy of such a shoddily structured script, which tosses Cindy around not just between Hansen and the cops, but between these factions and every other nefarious or otherwise letchy male on screen, in an attempt to raise some terminally low stakes. Rarely better than functional on either a visual or narrative level, and often just plain insensitive in its handling of Hansen's crimes, this is exactly the sort of blunt, cursory, shoulda-gone-straight-to-DVD venture one might reach for to illustrate how US cinema is presently lagging some distance behind its engaged and committed televisual equivalent. A late Thursday evening premiere on 5USA - after the CSI reruns, if just ahead of the cage-fighting - surely awaits it.

The Frozen Ground is in cinemas nationwide.

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