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Frozen River (2008)

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 97 minutes

US Certificate: R

Melissa Leo is to the Oscars’ Best Actress category what Richard Jenkins of The Visitor is to Best Actor—neither have a chance in hell of winning, but both probably should. Just like Jenkins, Leo pulls off one of those performances that leaves you feeling like you’ve just seen a slice out of someone’s life—she just is Ray Eddy. What’s even better, though, is that this is writer/director Courtney Hunt’s first major feature, and with it even getting a little bit of a push from Leo’s nomination, that means that maybe Hunt will get to tell some more stories.

THIS story starts just a little bit before Christmas, and all Ray Eddy (Leo) wants is enough money so she won’t lose the deposit on her new doublewide. Things are complicated, though, because her gambling addict husband has skipped town with the little money they have, she’s not making much at her part-time job, and her sons are eating popcorn and Tang for dinner. A chance encounter with Lila (Misty Upham), a young Mohawk woman living on a nearby reservation, introduces Ray to the world of border smuggling, but though the money is good, the job becomes more and more dangerous.

What I loved about this movie is that, going in, I had no idea what to expect—crime drama? Preachy allegory? Depressing character piece? It’s really none of that. It just simply IS—it exists as a story about people dealing with real life problems, and it works because it never veers too far towards the mundane or too far towards fantasy (there are a few scenes that almost strain my credulity—duffel bag, cough, cough—but even these work within the greater context of the story). Hunt’s story is full of people who react realistically to real situations, even when those situations seem to be spiraling out of control. Leo is, as mentioned, amazing, but Upham humanizes a girl who’s written as hard—as a director, Hunt definitely gets subtle work from her two leads. Frozen River seems bleak—it’s shot in a town full of ice, snow, and not surprisingly, a frozen river, and when we’re not seeing cold, we’re seeing dark. There’s a desperation to everyone, highlighted by the hopelessness of unending cold. What’s great, though, is that the script never gives in to the darkness completely, nor does it offer a happy resolution—all we get is a fully realized and totally original look at how lives can suddenly intertwine inconceivably and the way decisions can send us down paths we never expected.

It's Got: Perfect setting, spot on acting, a very cute baby.

It Needs: A sweater.


Hopefully it will get a post-Oscar boost, because this gritty tale of a woman driven to great lengths to provide for her family deserves to be seen.