The Frozen Ground

Old School Serial Killer Movie

One thing that’s for sure with the movies is that the advent of the internet and mobile phones killed the kind of thriller where puzzles are pieced together slowly through painstaking work going through documents and looking for clues. From Watergate to the Unabomber to John Wayne Gacey, you’d think these cases would have broken a lot more quickly had there been more information flying around, or simply if people could talk from different locations by phone. In fact they never really caught the Unabomber through investigation, he was turned in by his brother. Still, one suspects Google and the iPhone might have made it a lot easier to catch somebody on the run.

Just as ‘The X-Files’ solidified the role of mobile phones in to the story, the way these things went prior to the mobile phone being ubiquitous was quite different. You can see that going back to the late 1970s and early 1980s opens up a terrain  for film makers where they can have a serial killer might live in plain view and operate for many years. in that sense this film has a lovely old school mood, thanks to its setting.

What’s Good About It

The film is shot in a really gritty style and for some reason they work in the colour brown quite a bit. The wood grain on the panels on the wall, the desks, the cars, the jackets all seem to have different murky shades of brown. It is like the whole story takes place in a public toilet. Some would say Anchorage is exactly that kind of town but they’d be unkind. It’s more like the accuracy of the colour palette and schema in nailing the late 1970s and early 1980s. It truly was ugly how the brown jackets went with beige things and sunglasses were tortoise shell rimmed with brown-gradation lenses. (And all these brown cars!What were they thinking back then?)

The film is fairly prosaic in how it presents its story. The story plods through the important points in a workman-like manner, and yet it never really gets tedious. The characterisation of the girl Cindy Paulson is really compelling and Nicolas Cage plays his detective character with a lot of reserved control for a change. John Cusack plays the villain Robert Hansen which, is surprising chilling.

What’s Bad About It

Because it’s based on true events, there’s a lumbering quality to the narrative. Maybe there isn’t quite enough material to make the story truly gripping. There’s something a little stand-off-ish with the emotional distance that keeps the audience at bay. The material isn’t terribly profound; which is a shame because it has the look and feel of something that could have been profound. It almost bottles a piece of the 1979-1981 Zeitgeist, but has nothing terribly important to say about it.

What’s Interesting About It

It’s a rare serial killer movie that doesn’t somehow end up with a foot chase and the serial killer getting gunned down. Maybe it’s just me, but Dirty Harry gunning down Scorpio is too archetypal. ‘Zodiac’ comes to mind as another film that haunts you with the denouement rather than hand you the phallic satisfaction of “bang-bang-you’re-dead”.

Nicolas Cage playing a really dour detective in this film is in of itself quite interesting. He’s a hard actor to watch sometimes when he plays buffoons but there are parts of his career that include that amazing turn in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and so you always hope for him to do something sombre and sober… and here he is. It’s not like actors lose their chops with age – they only get more interesting. In Cage’s case, he seems to get more ornate as a performer, and that’s interesting.

I guess it’s also notable that John Cusack is playing villains now. He’s the out and out sadistic psycho-killer in this one. He’s also played another psycho in ‘The Paperboy’, so this might be a trend. I guess he’s decided that the days of him playing dads and writers and love-sick dudes is over. I don’t think he’s played out and out villain since ‘True Colours’. Maybe it’s something he’s doing just to earn a buck.

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Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

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