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How extraordinary to find a forty-something actress you've never seen or heard about before and being blown away by her. Her name is Melissa Leo and I believe she is here to stay. She gives the most powerful performance I've seen all year. She managed to slip into my subconscious and I find myself thinking about her (about her character) as I do someone I truly care about. That in itself is a major achievement. A first time director, Courtney Hunt, gives this character and this actress a remarkable space to breath and grow. The gelid landscape envelopes the desolate story but there is a human warmth devoid of sentimentality that makes "Frozen River" a welcome rarity. Moving, suspenseful, not to be missed.
I caught a viewing of this tonight at the fantastic Traverse City Film
Festival. The film was really fantastic. It is an indie flick very
reminiscent of David Gordon Green's work (George Washington, All the
Real Girls, etc) in pacing, cinematography, and the depth of character
the director is able to elicit with profound minimalism. The plot
centers around a Mohawk coyote who smuggles illegals across the St.
Lawrence in the winter by driving back and forth between the Canadian
and US segments of the Mohawk Reservation. The Mohawk are one of the
few tribes that issue their own passports and directly challenge
federal authority to regulate their border. Because the reservation
covers areas in both nations there isn't much either side can do. For
the Mohawk, sovereignty has real meaning, and they protect it fiercely.
The main character (aside from the Mohawk woman) is a white woman living in the area who's husband is a degenerate gambler and has taken off with the money she had saved to get them a new modular home. We never meet him, but nevertheless are given a good portrait of his and the family's struggles with his addiction. She needs $4k fast, stumbles into this smuggling business quite unexpectedly and decides its her only hope to avoid homelessness for herself and two kids. It's suspenseful, introspective, and the acting is top notch by everyone. I also loved how it provided a glimpse into one part of Indian Country few people even know exists, and treats the Indians as people rather than victims or otherwise attempts to cajole the audience into feeling something for them. They are just people. Just like us.
The town where Frozen River takes place is Massena, New York, a few
miles from the Canadian border in the middle of a Mohawk reservation,
and in the winter it's every bit as cold and grey as the film depicts.
This is one of those films that depicts a slice of life that most of us
aren't privy too and it seems to know its subject inside and out.
Frozen River is independent film-making at its best, both vital and timely. Writer/Director Courtney Hunt shows how otherwise law abiding people can be driven to do some shady things when there are no other options. While there may still be a great divide between Natives and non-Natives, the film depicts how economic hardship has no boundaries and in fact unites us. As Lila and Ray make those dangerous trips across the border with state troopers lurking all around them, Hunt pays considerable attention to the small details of human smuggling, and the result is a constant state of dread as if anything can go awry at any time. Leo is absolutely brilliant as Ray, and Upham (raised in Seattle) is a pure revelation as Lila. Frozen River shines a light on a dark corner of our nation, one that is an unfortunate result of a useless immigration policy and a failing economy.
I had heard that this film was something of a runaway hit at Cannes last year. After seeing it, I can see why. 'Frozen River' is a grim little tale of a middle aged woman (Melissa Leo)who's good for nothing, substance abusing,gambler husband has left her & their two sons for points unknown (only after usurping all of the money from the bank--and this,just a week before Christmas). Rae (Leo)has to earn some money soon, or lose their trailer home. She resorts to smuggling illegal aliens (with the assistance of an Indian woman who dislikes whites)over the boarder,from Canada to the U.S., via the local Indian reservation. Toss in elements of a cynical teen aged son,and other similar elements,and you have yourself a powerful piece of drama that although somewhat bleak,manages to draw you in to the plight of people who want to fit in, but are never the less, not excepted,due to racial issues. Well worth seeking out. The film has been slapped an R-rating by the MPAA, due to some course language.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recently saw Frozen River, at a local theater. This indie film
revolves around two impoverished single mothers; one white, and the
other a member of the Mohawk Native American tribe. The setting of the
film takes place in the harsh, bleak climate of upstate NY, near the
Canadian border during wintertime.
Melissa Leo is brilliant as the haggard, world-weary single mother, Ray. Ray's gambling-addict husband, has left her and their 2 sons in the lurch. Right before Christmas, he splits with the savings that Ray had planned to use as payment, for a better trailer home than the one her family has been residing in.
Ray tries in vain to support herself and her children, on income from a part-time retail job. She doesn't get the promotion to Manager, that she had expected at her job. As a result, Ray and her family are in dire economic straits; they subsist on popcorn and powdered juice, are on the verge of having their TV repossessed by a rent-to-own store, and face a Christmas without presents. Worst of all, the coveted 'double-wide' trailer home that Ray has long dreamed of purchasing, is an impossibility, without the savings that her husband ran off with.
In desperation, Ray goes looking for her husband in a gambling Casino, located in Mohawk tribal territory. One of the young Native American women of the tribe, Lila (played with a dry, dour efficiency by Misty Upham) steals the car that Ray's husband had abandoned, in the Casino parking-lot. Ray sees this, and pursues Lila to her tiny trailer home, located in a remote woodsy area.
Lila is also a single mom whose husband had died, and left her with a 1-year-old son to raise alone. Lila doesn't want to give Ray the car back, and doesn't respond to threats that Ray will turn Lila in to the local cops. According to Lila, white man's law is void in Mohawk territory. After a brief scuffle with Lila, Ray pulls a pistol, and shoots a hole in Lila's trailer. Frightened by this, Lila makes Ray an offer; if she lets Lila keep the car, then Ray can join Lila in her lucrative immigrant smuggling operation. Ray reluctantly agrees.
This film offers-up lots of stark, yet gorgeous, moody scenery. It dovetails well, with the gripping suspense of the smuggling-runs made by Ray and Lila. They must always keep one step ahead of the local State Troopers, hope that the sleazy smuggling kingpins pay them what they are owed, and complete their smuggling-runs without the frozen river caving in.
The basic premise of the film is grim, but highlights the lengths that two desperate single mothers could be driven to, in order to support their families. We need more films that address the serious plight of the working-poor, in American today. Especially films about poor single mothers, and the acute economic hardships that many of them face in today's economy.
The main problem with Frozen River, is that there are some implausible plot details, throughout the film. The producers obviously wanted to make a film with lots of emotional impact, and depth. They succeeded, but also should have made sure that they smoothed-out the rough edges in the storyline. Overall though, I would recommend Frozen River. The gorgeous cinematography, and especially the strong performances by the two lead actresses, make this film worth watching.
Courtney Hunt's début feature, "Frozen River", winner of this year's
Sundance's Grand Jury Prize, is as tense as a great thriller should be,
and also a heartfelt, poignant drama.
Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) was just abandoned by her druggie husband, having to take care of their two kids and pay for their house alone (otherwise, they'll be evicted). With her minimum wage job at a local store, Ray can't make enough money, but chance will introduce her to a young Mohawk, Lila (Misty Upham), who smuggles illegal immigrants across the frozen St. Lawrence River (between New York State and Québec), and both will be forced to risk a lot in order to get the money they need.
Hunt's writing/directing is secure and reveals a very promising talent, but the film's major strength is the extraordinary performances of the lead actresses, in particular Melissa Leo ("21 Grams", "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"), magnificent character actress turned lead. Totally deglamourized, her screen presence is real, visceral, almost organic. A flawless performance in a great film, that is at once sad, suspenseful and hopeful. It's not every movie that makes you feel for and really care for its characters, but "Frozen River" is one of those rare gems. 10/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Here is a story that dares to explore a side of this country rarely
seen in mainstream cinemas, a movie that subtly shows the politics of
the drama which females must endure without the support of the male.
For years we have admired the resilience of tough mother who endures
all kinds of ordeals to protect her own, a woman who fears nothing and
conquer all. We have seen honored and represent a political or
ecological affiliation in films like "Norma Rae" and "Silkwood". Yes,
they are female and strong and represent all of us, our indignation,
the pain of our community.
"Frozen Rivers" is not taking political sides; as a matter of fact, it appears to condemn the very act that gets our two main characters in trouble. It focuses on the issues of survival and protection. The American Dream is already shattered. What matters now is to survive on something other than cereal and Tang.
Something smolders in this film, and it is the performance of Leo, as Ray, the mother who cries and fears the worst, but who doesn't understand the meaning of quitting. She is willing to compromise her views and push herself beyond what she has endured so far in order to feed and protect her children. She also learns that there might be others who are worse off than she is. She has lost a husband, but what do the others have? Why are they willing to take those chances and endure slavery? "Frozen River" does not have a happy ending, but there is plenty of hope in it, as we know that the worst is probably over. There are some exchanges, strategically placed between the main characters to know that we are willing to forgive and compromise, in order to allow for more growth and improvement.
It's a deceptively quiet film, but it does possess a very strong voice.
Life ain't easy for Ray. She may have had it good, but now she's got it rough. Two kids. Gambling runaway husband. Working at the Yankee Dollar. On the icy brink of the unforgiving upstate New York wilderness. Living in a trailer. The best thing she can even think of is a bigger trailer. Bottles on bottles of bubble bath she may never open hold the promise of better days that may never break. That's how bad it is. Along comes Lila. In many ways, she has it even worse than Ray: living in an even tinier trailer, estranged from her family, bad eyes, out of work. But she is also a small-time player in the well-oiled trafficking industry, bringing aliens into the US from Canada. Desperate for a little extra cash to buy that bigger trailer, Ray gets involved. At first sight, writer-director Courtney Hunt's debut is as depressing as they come. But beneath rough surfaces, there is also hope. In fact, the many acts of love and kindness are all the more surprising given how hard life is on these people. Just when you think they hit rock bottom, a bona fide miracle comes their way. Says Lila: "That wasn't me. That was the hand of the creator." It may be a broken Halleluja, but it's a Halleluja all the same. - Fine performances all around. Sundance and Hamburg Film Festival winner.
For a first time director, a superb job, The general theme is single mothers fighting for their very life. Living on next to nothing,trying to raise their children with almost no resources but their own courage. They are at the very edge of society living in forbidding land of ice snow and frozen lakes and rivers. Both Melissa Leo and the native American woman must make terrible choices in order to live. Despite what the main stream critics have said, the picture is photographed wonderfully and there are no cheap props other indications of cheap film. The actors are fabulous and the characters are interesting, true to life and the story makes sense. This film is a classic, and I hereby nominate both female leads for Oscars. see this film ASAP!!
Frozen River never even gets close to something of a positive tone. The
movie is about a mother of two having her husband abandon them on 10
days before Christmas. To make matters worse the family is in dire
straits needing money. As a result Melissa Leo, who plays the mother,
begins to smuggle illegal immigrants across the border to make money.
Melissa Leo's performance in this movie is very good but hard to watch. The movie is tough and shows poverty in American and in Indian reservations continuously. Her performance showed the desperation of a single mother and the price she will pay to get what she needs.
The writing and directing of the movie was executed very well but I couldn't help but just have a bad feeling after the movie. I'm fine with negative movie but there seemed to be almost no hope for anyone in this film. Some stretches were of the film were dragging on but still a good film. If your in the mood watch this movie.
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