Nicolas Cage is definitely one of a kind. From the sublime to the atrocious, the understated to the downright mental, his roles are so diverse that you never quite know what you’re going to get from a talented if flawed performer. Here, Cage plays Alaskan police Sergeant Jack Halcombe, and as is the case with the man, you just don’t know what sort of performance you’re going to get. Happily, we get a very assured one, with none of the hilarity or exuberance that you may be used to. It’s a welcome serious performance, showing once again that he’s capable of many things, even if some of them are simply being rubbish.
Co-star John Cusack is regularly more reliable, and his performance here is edgy, sinister and nicely understated, ensuring there’s nothing of the lazy pantomime villain about the character. The Con Air pair do not have much screen time together, but it makes again for a great partnership, which may allude to further collaborations in future.
These two performances, coupled with a sharp script and an unexpectedly great turn from Vanessa Hudgens, mean the first hour of the film makes for tense, thrilling viewing. It feels perfectly paced, and the high-pressure, intense story pours out effortlessly. Debut director Scott Walker doesn’t do anything new for the genre, but he makes sure that what’s done is perfect, even if you’ve seen many of the scenes before, there aren’t many that are better executed than here. At least for the first hour.
Once the hour mark is passed, the film begins to sag. The final act, while seeking to bring closure, loses much of the sharpness and seems to run out of ideas and apart from the odd scenes featuring Cage and Cusack together begins to feel terribly formulaic. It has enough residue drama to carry it through, however.
The Frozen Ground is an old-fashioned thriller with a few innovative additions and an atmosphere that is very well maintained, despite its pacing problems and the fact its story fizzles out, leaving you with a collection of clichés that start to feel jarring. The performances are of a high standard, with the three leads excelling and a director that certainly knows the genre, and even 50 Cent is bearable the few times he appears, which is definitely an achievement and should be congratulated.
Serial killer mysteries may well be overdone, but this has at its heart a harrowing true story that it deals with tactfully and explores with an emphasis on character rather than on any moral agenda it could be portraying about any parties involved. It’s a quiet achievement for Walker despite its flaws, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of his career develops, and whether he’ll partner up with Cage again.