Film: "The Frozen Ground"; Director: Scott Walker; Cast: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kevin Dunn, Olga Valentina, Michael McGrady, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Kurt Fuller, Brad William Henke, Katherine LaNasa, Radha Mitchell and Curtis Jackson; Rating: ***
The narration rolls on from 1983, when a 17-year-old prostitute and stripper Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) is in hand cuffs and escapes from the clutches of her psychologically-disturbed client. She tries to explain to the police officer that an Anchorage bakery owner Robert Hansen (John Cusack) tried to kill her. The officer dismisses her plea as just a tale of a whore.
Around the same time an unidentified body is found on the outskirts of Anchorage. Sergeant Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) investigates the crime scene and finds a used cartridge case in the grave.
When media reporters question Halcombe about the recently discovered body as well as other bodies found in the area, he denies a connection between the murders.
But after hearing Cindy's story, Halcombe tracks her down and asks another officer about the man she accused. Halcombe deduces that Hansen, highly respected, married businessman with kids and who was previously arrested for indecent disturbances, is a methodical murderer.
Because Hansen appears to be a decent citizen and the complainant a prostitute, the police portray her as a lethargic, skeptical, misogynistic person and dismiss her accusations. Even when Halcombe amasses reams of circumstantial evidence against Hansen, the District Attorney refuses to act.
Tagged with cliches, as most serial killer and police procedural films do, "The Frozen Ground" has as its strength the acting, the bleak wintry setting which cloaks everything in a mood of weary fatalism, the cinematography and crisp editing.
The scenes are simple and near real. Nicolas Cage and Vanessa Hudgens are grounded and their portrayal of the characters is accurate and genuine.
Cusack underplays the character of Hansen. He conceals any sense of menace and has used his voice effectively giving the character the guy-next-door persona. He is calm, almost reticent even when he is up to his monstrous deeds. He has worked hard on his concealment.
Novice writer-director Scott Walker has done a commendable job. Except for the initial non-linear narration at the very beginning of the film, the screenplay with the plot-points is intact and keeps you hooked to the very end.
There is a breathtaking scene, where Cindy, alone on a deserted side street, comes across a moose which has wandered into the city. It reminds you so much of an Indian scenario where you see cows on the street. The Moose and Cindy stand for a while, staring at each other. The snow falls. It is a moment that is beyond meaning, beyond plot. Yet, it reveals the loneliness of the young lady, who lives an animal life, homeless.
Visually, cinematographer Patrick Murguia's work is worth a mention. The film is mixed in with the super-fast, hand-held action of the majority of the film. There are periodic aerial shots of the forbidding Alaskan wilderness, mountains, glaciers, frozen rivers that are constant reminders of what a vast field Hansen had to play in, and the impossibility of ever finding the missing.
A sore point for the Indian audience is the blurring of the cuss words in dialogues, by the censors. The fill-in-the-blank dialogues make the watching experience a bit painful.