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Melissa Leo
Misty Upham
Charlie McDermott
Michael O'Keefe.
Courtney Hunt.
Courtney Hunt.
Running Time
97 minutes

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Frozen River
Oscar-nominated anti-chick flick

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After her husband runs off with her savings, Ray Eddy (Leo) and her kids are destitute. Ray unwittingly finds herself in partnership with Mohawk Lila Littlewolf (Upham) as a people smuggler, driving illegal aliens across an iced-over St. Lawrence River bordering Quebec and New York State.

Frozen River
Desperate women driven to do crazy shit: you gotta love ’em! Oscar nominations (Best Actress and Original Screenplay) and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for this debut from writer-director Courtney Hunt indicate the quality of work. Without sounding one false note, the film transcends chick flick, melodrama and thriller (though it has fine elements of those) for a compelling, humane drama. The plot particulars may hinge on a very specific locale, but the theme has global resonance.

If the immigrants who climb into the boot of Ray’s (Melissa Leo) car knew how she and her neighbours on the Mohawk Reservation straddling the Canadian-US border live, they would have thought harder before indebting themselves to the thugs who dump them and roughly collect them
on both sides of their journey. Welcome to America! Ray, who doesn’t understand what she’s gotten herself into, and Misty Upham’s Lila, a young widow whose risky business is undertaken to reclaim the baby taken away from her, do not bond in any typical gal-pal sense. They meet at gunpoint when Lila boosts Ray’s car, and stick together out of need. Their conversations are terse. They both come across as cold and unfeeling. And yet the actresses strike a remarkable balance together, and with raw, naked expressiveness emerge sympathetically, even heroically, as beleaguered women who can’t afford to sit around being victims.

Ray’s small American Dream is hardly greedy or delusional. She just wants to get herself and her kids out of their old trailer (a metal shack with a rented TV) and swap it for a new “double wide” version barely distinguishable from a cargo container. She’s hard-working, but can only get part-time shifts at the Yankee One Dollar store. And she’s insistent that her teenager, T. J. (Charlie McDermott), stay in school. In the current economic climate, Ray’s dilemma reverberates with anxieties people all over can relate to. She’s in the fight of her life just to survive. Victory means taking the children out for a burger instead of feeding them popcorn for breakfast and dinner.

Leo is magnificent and Hunt keeps it tightly focussed and real. Every detail rings true, and there’s even beauty, particularly in the nerve-wracking trips across the ice.

Original, sad, suspenseful and involving: the kind of work that helps independent American cinema retain its good name.

Reviewed by Angie Errigo

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Average user rating for Frozen River
Empire Star Rating


This is a very sad story. Making it all the more beautiful in a delicate sort of way. Hunt's understated, subtle direction provides an involving realism to the movie that creates a tense atmosphere. All this adds up to make one hell of an exciting picture, but not necassarily in a "bang bang" way but more in an emotionally drenching way. Wonderful stuff. ... More

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Posted by krisjcummins at 00:33, 14 April 2010 | Report This Post

You might want to have fun at the movies but you have to realise that this is a film that is trying to get a message across. Showing that the world isn't as glamerous and great as most mainstream seems to represent it. And for that, this is one of the most powerful and interesting films i have seen in a long time. A great real life drama! ... More

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Posted by plum bob at 18:44, 06 December 2009 | Report This Post

Ah, Angie...

You seem to have a soft spot for worthy, miserable, depressing films. I know misery exists and I spend my life making sure my family hasn't (so far) ended up in it. Even then, there's enough sadness in everyday life, without having to go and pay money to see made up stuff to bring me down. I do hope you have fun at the movies too sometimes! ... More

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Posted by The Voice of Fate at 10:16, 19 July 2009 | Report This Post

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