Film Reviews: Strong Silent Types With Agendas And Weapons, Or Non-Stop Frozen Fire Kill And Other Action Words

February 23, 2015



The Frozen Ground / Directed by Scott Walker / 16LVD                   5

Fire With Fire / Directed by David Barrett / 16VL                              5

3 Days To Kill / Directed by McG/ 13V                                                6.5

Non-Stop / Directed by Juame Collet-Serra / 13V                             6.5


There’s much to be said for a good work ethic. There’s less to be said for men who won’t or can’t rest until the job is done, even if the job is hunting down another human being and “done” is a euphemism for putting a bullet through someone’s head.

And yet, such characters are a mainstay of stories told in popular culture, whether in books or on screen. In the latter class, strong silent types with agendas and weapons are the protagonists in about half of all movies that feature the words “hunter”, “fire”, “kill” or “intense” in either the title or the shoutline on poster or DVD cover.

In The Frozen Ground (“The hunter becomes the hunted”, it says here), Jack Holcombe is an Alaska State Trooper who believes that a suspicious local resident, Robert Hansen, is not only a serial killer but a sexual predator who has been attacking and abusing young women for many years, without making enough mistakes to allow the law to get close enough to arrest him.

As you can imagine, being a State Trooper in Alaska is not the sort of job that plasters a goofy grin across the faces of those who do it, so you’d need someone particularly adept at looking like he was permanently upset to pull it off. For some reason, the filmmakers went for Nicolas Cage. Say no more.

More interestingly, the bad guy is played by John Cusack who, despite appearing to be witty, warm and an all-round lovely man in interviews, is putting together a run of particularly odious villains, with his turn as Hillary Van Wetter in the generally skanky The Paper Boy as the image-shattering nadir of the sequence.

His Robert Hansen is, superficially, a more likeable sort, but that’s what so unsettling about the character. The expressionless Holcombe might have his number, but unless the detective can cut through the red tape hindering his investigation, it’s his word against Hansen and, meanwhile, women are being raped and murdered. Edgy and with some decent performances, the Frozen Ground will prove too bleak for most.

The designers of the DVD cover for Fire With Fire have placed Bruce Willis on the front and the back, because he’s, you know, Bruce Willis. It’s also been signed off that way because, though Willis only appears in a supporting role, he’s still an easier sell than Josh Duhamel, who ticks most of the leading man boxes but has yet to really convince as someone who can carry a movie.

For entirely believable reasons – in Hollywood terms – he ends up in a witness protection programme, which puts a crimp in both his career and his mission to wreak revenge (do the italics fully convey the sheer drama of the set-up?) on a gangster who doesn’t mind innocent blood on his hands. Vincent D’Onofrio, a dab hand at creepiness, convinces as said gangster, though the character is written as so brutally one-dimensional that he doesn’t get a chance to show off even half of his considerable chops.

Kevin Costner gets a bad rap. It’s not as though Waterworld and The Postman were the worst films in the world, ever. No, really. However dark that period of his career was, he’s retained the presence and charm that makes him, still, a bankable asset. In 3 Days To Kill, he plays a secret agent with a soft side and a need to complete a mission before he can finally put himself out to pasture. What, Liam Neeson wasn’t available?

Costner nails his scenes, convincing as a watchful, shrewd expert in the professional delivery of pain and discomfort. He’s let down to some degree by those around him, with Amber Heard playing herself, essentially, as a CIA operative who’s tasked with managing Costner’s character. She’s all tossed blond hair and figure-hugging outfits, which you can get in Austin Powers films, for crying out loud. It’s the setpieces here that carry the film, with the inevitable violence being cleverly, imaginatively choreographed.

To respond to an earlier question, Liam Neeson was busy – with Non-Stop (“Thrilling and intense”, shouts the cover blurb). The easy review is “Taken on a plane”, which is pretty accurate. But that doesn’t give praise to the scriptwriters, who use the claustrophobic atmosphere of a plane in the middle of a long-haul flight to introduce twist after twist into the tale of an air marshall who’s drawn into an explosive mid-air situation with a several possible outcomes.

Clever, compact and taut, this is easily good enough to hold its own in Neeson’s late-career action-man resurgence.