Based on Actual Events

Ever wonder what it means when a movie claims it is “Based on Actual Events?”┬áThe new Nicolas Cage vehicle, the “The Frozen Ground,” makes that claim.

Frozen Ground publicity still

But what does that mean? For clues, let’s look at the Nicolas Cage character in the film.

According to IMDb, Cage plays “Jack Halcombe.” Allegedly, he’s the Alaska State Trooper who brought Hansen to justice. That’s strange, because if you look at the definitive account of the Hansen murders, “Butcher, Baker,” you will not find a character named Jack Halcombe.

That’s because there is no “Jack Halcombe,” at least in the context of the Alaska State Troopers and serial murderer Robert Hansen. Jack Halcombe is a fictional character. Nicolas Cage plays a fictional character.

The actual cop who brought Robert Hansen to justice is named Glenn Flothe. Early reports about the movie listed Flothe as the Nicolas Cage character. That changed. I’m guessing (educated guess) the reason that changed is because:

The filmmakers made up a lot of shit. Shit that Glenn Flothe was not comfortable signing off on. And to use Glenn’s name, he had to sign off on it. In the movie business, it’s called “Life Rights.” As in, I can say anything I want about you — true or false — if it helps the movie. You signed off on “Life Rights.” You can’t frickin’ sue me.

It turns out that Glenn Flothe wasn’t the only one who didn’t sign off on the made-up-shit. Here’s the complete list.

Fictional Characters in Frozen Ground

  • Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) = Glenn Flothe
  • Allie Halcombe (Radha Mitchell) = Cherry Flothe (Glenn Flothe’s wife)
    This one should be obvious.
  • Fran Hansen (Katherine LaNasa) = Darla Hansen
    Hansen’s ex-wife, Darla, has no incentive to cooperate with the filmmakers.
  • D.A. Pat Clives (Kurt Fuller) = D.A. Pat Doogan
    Pat Doogan is a good friend of Glenn Flothe, who played a critical role in getting an arrest warrant for Hansen when the local D.A. wasn’t being entirely cooperative. I’m guessing you can’t get one (Doogan) without the other (Flothe).

Ok, so it’s a fairly short list. A short list of very important characters. And when the filmmakers couldn’t navigate a closer tack to the “truth,” they bailed. Call it creative convenience. Call it “based on actual events.” Call it made up shit.

Whatever you do, don’t call it true. For that, you have to read, “Butcher, Baker.”

Mrs. Hansen

Since Darla Hansen has lately been a topic of discussion in Anchorage, what with the movie crew and everything, I thought I’d add my first-hand impressions.

I met Darla Hansen twice and talked to her by phone a third time. The first meeting was at her home on Old Harbor Road, the year after Bob confessed. It seemed like she was still in shock, but she was a considerate, almost fussy, hostess. She dutifully showed me the house, which was for sale at the time. We only talked briefly about Bob; she told me she’d taken care of all the legal issues, so his life would no longer rule hers. She added that most of her neighbors wanted her to stay; she wasn’t so sure. In all of this, she was determined and matter-of-fact, like many midwestern women I’ve met over the years.

The second time we met was at a Bible study group with some of her church friends. I recall that the topic of discussion was “talking to God.” Everyone said that, yes, they did talk to God. Only Darla said that God talked back. One of the men in the study group subtly rolled his eyes, but none of us commented further. If anyone needed divine guidance, surely Darla qualified.

By the time I spoke to Darla the third time, she had moved back to Arkansas. She didn’t much want to talk about Bob. She wanted to leave him in another place; she wanted to leave him in the past. But she did confirm this much: she suspected he’d been up to something, but had no idea how deep that something went. As a recent book by an FBI profiler notes, this is often the case with dangerous criminals; their success depends on disappearing into the shadows of “good appearances.” When he needed to, Bob Hansen was very adept at doing “nice,” “hardworking,” “family man” and “upstanding citizen.” He fooled a lot of people for a long time.

That said, in all our conversations I was struck by Darla’s sensitivity and intelligence, though I couldn’t help but think her willfully naive. Like all of us, she is a flawed being. Unlike most of us, she happened to marry a monster, who used her good-heartedness against her.