Nicolas Cage can’t seem to escape the debate over the link between movies and real life murders. In his new film, Scott Walker’s The Frozen Ground, Cage plays a detective pursing serial killer Robert Hansen, who over 12 years abducted and killed at least 17 women.
Hansen would fly his victims to the Alaskan wilderness where he would hunt them like prey. Featuring John Cusack as Hansen and Vanessa Hudgens as a teenage prostitute who escapes the killer’s clutches, The Frozen Ground is a gory account of the notorious crimes that feature photos of the real victims in the end credits.
The connection between violence in films and real-life atrocities has been a major topic of discussion in recent years, fuelled in part by the success of Quentin Tarantino’s brand of pop-violence. But when, as in The Frozen Ground, a film looks to reality for inspiration, there is rarely any controversy.
The trouble starts when murderers seem to take their inspiration from the movies. It’s a subject that Nicolas Cage inadvertently became embroiled in recently when Jim Carrey announced on Twitter that he would not be doing any publicity for Kick-Ass 2. Carrey wrote: “I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence.’
Cage starred in the original Kick-Ass, Mathew Vaughn’s 2010 film, featuring graphic pop-violence that would make Quentin Tarantino cover his eyes, much of it committed by young teenagers. Cage plays a father who teaches his young daughter to be a masked vigilante replete with guns and costume. His character Big Daddy suffers a brutal death at the end of the film, and chatting in a London hotel he confirms that his decision not to return for the sequel has nothing to do with the levels of violence on-screen.
“Let me go on record to say I’m not in Kick-Ass 2,” he says, finally killing the internet rumours that he would be doing a cameo turn. “I didn’t want to go back simply because I said what I said with the role of Big Daddy, and the character died at the end of the movie. He’s not going to be a hologram in the movie.”
As for Carrey, Cage feels that his apprehension about the connection between movies and real life violence is misplaced. “Jim’s going to do what Jim’s going to do. That is his right and his business. But I’m not blaming the violence that happens in my country on movies. I’m not doing it.”
The 49-year-old actor uses Stanley Kubrick’s decision to withdraw A Clockwork Orange from British cinemas to back up his argument. “When A Clockwork Orange came out there was that whole thing with hooligans and Stanley Kubrick pulled the movie,” he says.
“I believe in freedom of speech and I’ll still rather live in a world where A Clockwork Orange exists then it doesn’t. I feel horrible about the gun violence and I feel it inside. I don’t think movies are the reason why this violence exists, I think it’s going to happen whether movies are there or not.”
There is plenty of violence on show in The Frozen Ground, but Cage’s character commits none of it. Indeed he plays against type, giving a sombre central turn as a dedicated policeman while Cusack gets to do crazy. The Oscar-winner wants his performance to pay tribute to the work of Detective Glenn Flothe, on whom Cage based his character Jack Halcombe.
“I interviewed Glenn and I read the book Butcher, Baker and I saw the work that went into what he did pursuing the killer and I view the man as a hero, a real one,” says Cage. “I didn’t take the job lightly. I wanted him to look good and I wanted to fit him into the format of the movie. I wasn’t going to do any more of my idiosyncratic performance style.”
In The Frozen Ground there is no danger of Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew being accused of trying to chew up the scenery. “The Frozen Ground gave me a chance to mix it up in terms of my presentation,” says Cage.
“I just came off Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and that was sort of like a pop-art operatic performance, larger than life, what I would call a jazz acting thing. It was time to remind people that that is not all I can do and I actually can be quiet and cinéma vérité and be more into the minutiae of the performance.”
As for the violence in the film, the California native feels it’s important to remind audiences of the horrors that took place. He says, “Hopefully as a result of The Frozen Ground more and more people will be aware of the horrible things that happen to ladies all over the world and give them respect. This movie is a love letter to those victims.”
The Frozen Ground is out now