Aside from the usual complaints about what happens when movies try to condense the narrative that’s only possible in books, I have several observations:
- Scene I missed the most: In the actual investigation, Holcombe (AST Sgt. Glenn Flothe) learns of Robert Hansen’s sordid past while standing next to AST Major Walter Gilmour as they’re peeing at the urinals.
- AST Sgt. Holcombe’s (Cage) wife in Frozen Ground is largely unsympathetic. The real wife here, Cherry Flothe, interacted with Cindy Paulson on a regular (and always supportive) basis — usually by phone, when Glenn was unavailable. Cherry was an unswerving believer in Glenn, even when others had doubts. In this case, the real thing is much, much better than the fictional thing.
- Nicholas Cage turns in a strained but credible performance as Glenn Flothe (Holcombe). My “Butcher, Baker” co-author, the inimitable Walter Gilmour, once joked that the first instinct was to put all the asshole cops on the dancer murders. They only succeeded when they put a nice cop (Flothe) on the case.
- My biggest (positive) surprise was Vanessa Hudgens as Cindy Paulson. She deftly manages to communicate the edgy vulnerability of the real person. Kudos — if Hudgens fails, the movie fails, because the credibility of everything else depends on that performance.
- The aerial shots of the Chugach Mountains, the Knik River and Anchorage were stunning at times. More than anything, the Hansen murders call up a sense of people and place — and the place is inseparable from how Hansen’s crimes were committed and how he got away with them for so long.
- Strangest moment #1: Holcombe (Cage) describes Robert Hansen as a stutterer. Yet Hansen (Cusack) barely stutters. Probably a good acting decision. But still a WTF moment.
- Strangest moment #2: Hansen’s entire interaction with the (white) pimp/enforcer. People, people, people… Robert Hansen was (justifiably) terrified that every human interaction was a route to the unraveling of his elaborate cover. He went to GREAT lengths to make sure no one ever saw him with any of the young women. And then went to great lengths to scare, secure and isolate them. To think that he would blithely order a “hit” on Cindy Paulson is magical thinking on the part of the filmmakers (yes, it adds drama; I would argue it’s gratuitous, that it just gives the actors some action sequences, but… Nevermind).
- And, yes, there were jailhouse rumors about a hit on Cindy. Or more accurately, talk about how Hansen wanted her to just go away (as in pay her to leave town). Those are two different things. I say: consider the source. Yeah. The jailhouse.
Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.