Frozen River (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Now, this, my friends, is a
movie! It was shot on a Sony Varicam, the high end of digital cameras,
in 24 days in Plattsburgh, New York in the dead of winter on the frozen
desolation of the St. Laurence River. Although the story is fiction, it
is based on real life women who make money to support their families by
smuggling illegal immigrants into the country across the river from
Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) is a
struggling mom of two sons, 15-year-old TJ (Charlie McDermott) and a
5-year-old. Her husband, never seen, has run away with all her money.
She has a part time job at a convenience store but her manager wonít
make her fulltime. She wants to buy a prefabricated home in which to
raise her two sons, but canít come up with the money.
She meets Lila (Misty Upham),
a Mohawk Indian who lives on the Reservation and is trying to get enough
money to get her 1-year-old son back by smuggling aliens into the
country through the Reservation. Ray reluctantly teams up with her
because Ray has the car and Lila has the know-how.
Written, directed, and shot
on a miniscule budget by Courtney Hunt, there isnít a glint of humor in
this film, but it captures Thoreauís dictum that ďmost people live lives
of quiet desperationĒ as well as any film I can remember.
Every waking second of
Rayís life is a struggle for survival for herself and her sons. Making
it worse is TJís disapproval of virtually everything she does. There are
no bright spots in Rayís life. She just goes from one crisis to another,
dealing with each as well as she can. This is a bleak, compelling film.
Even though both Ray and Lila are clearly breaking the law, Hunt brings
to their stories a grudging sympathy for what they are doing. The acting
is superb. Both Upham and Leo bring such credibility to their characters
that it just doesnít seem as if they are acting. This looks like a
The cinematography captures
the bleakness of their lives by the lighting and locations. This is
filmed in color, but I remember it in black and white, it is so stark.
Leo and Upham give remarkable performances. Iíd nominate them both for
Oscarsģ, along with Hunt for both directing and writing, but, since this
is a low-budget indie, donít hold your breath.
This is a small,
independent film that must be seen to realize its value. If you like
movies and appreciate the craft, you will rarely see a better made film.
Although I left the film emotionally drained, I felt exhilarated from
seeing such an exceptionally well-made film.