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Frozen River (2008)

1:57 | Trailer
A mom looks for another source of income, when her husband leaves with the money meant for the new mobile home. A nearby Indian territory stretches across the border to Canada with a drivable frozen river between. Smuggling?


Courtney Hunt


Courtney Hunt
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 32 wins & 37 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Melissa Leo ... Ray Eddy
Misty Upham ... Lila Littlewolf
Charlie McDermott ... T.J.
Michael O'Keefe ... Trooper Finnerty
Mark Boone Junior ... Jacques Bruno
James Reilly ... Ricky
Jay Klaitz ... Guy Versailles
John Canoe John Canoe ... Bernie Littlewolf
Dylan Carusona ... Jimmy
Michael Skye Michael Skye ... Billy Three Rivers (as Michael Sky)
Gargi Shinde ... Pakistani Mother
Rajesh Bose ... Pakistani Father
Azin Jahanbakhsh Azin Jahanbakhsh ... Pakistani Dealer
Jack Phillips Jack Phillips ... Pakistani Baby
James Phillips James Phillips ... Pakistani Baby


Takes place in the days before Christmas near a little-known border crossing on the Mohawk reservation between New York State and Quebec. Here, the lure of fast money from smuggling presents a daily challenge to single moms who would otherwise be earning minimum wage. Two women - one white, one Mohawk, both single mothers faced with desperate circumstances - are drawn into the world of border smuggling across the frozen water of the St. Lawrence River. Ray and Lila - and a New York State Trooper as opponent in an evolving cat-and-mouse game. Written by anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Desperation knows no borders.


Crime | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Charlie McDermott and James Reilly, who play brothers, are cousins in real life. See more »


When the state trooper checks out at Yankee Dollar, Ray tells him the total is $3.76. Over his shoulder, a sign on the wall that says that all items are $1.00. At the time, the sales tax in St. Lawrence County, which includes Massena, was 7%, so the total should've been $3.21. See more »


Voicemail server bot: To change your personal greeting, press 1.
[Roy presses 1]
Voicemail server bot: To record greeting, press 3.
[Roy presses 3]
Ray Eddy: Hi, it's me. Leave a message and
[in a happy tone]
Ray Eddy: I'll call you back.
[Voicemail greeting recording]
Ray Eddy: Hi, it's me. Leave a message and I'll call you back.
Voicemail server bot: To change your personal greeting, press 1.
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User Reviews

Living on the edge of Canada, dire poverty, and doom
26 August 2008 | by Chris KnippSee all my reviews

In this "acclaimed Sundance drama," first-time director Courtney Hunt explores the situation of a desperate white American family living near the border between New York and Quebec. A Mohawk reservation overlaps the border in a sort of free zone. Driving over the frozen water of the title allows Ray Eddy (veteran actress Melissa Leo) temporarily to earn quick money by smuggling illegals into the US with the grudging assistance of a young Mohawk woman called Lila (Misty Upham), who's done it before. Ray's husband is a gambling addict who's gone missing right before Christmas leaving Ray to make balloon payments on a dreamed of three-bedroom "double wide" trailer home and a rent-to-own flat-screen TV. She's left alone with two sons, five and fifteen, with Christmas days off. On her part-time job at The Yankee Dollar, she's not going to make it. The dice are not turning up right for the Eddys.

A feeling of doom pervades 'Frozen River' from the opening tight closeup of Leo's deeply lined face as she sucks on a cigarette and quietly weeps. Things are so bad, the regular fare in the house is popcorn and Tang. Ricky (James Reilly) is a small boy who needs to be watched. He wants some violent video game for Christmas. The remaining male in charge is Ricky's photogenic fifteen-year-old brother T.J. (Charlie McDermott, whose first appearance was in Shyamalan's The Village). T.J. sees through mom's promises that all will be well and staunchly refuses to eat another popcorn-Tang dinner.

Ray's visit to the local bingo hall in search of her lost husband leads her to spot that Lila is driving his car, which he's abandoned. She follows Lila to the "res" to confront her and one thing leads to another. Inexplicably and not particularly in character, Ray pulls out a pistol and shoots it to get Lila's attention.

This is how it goes more or less from then on. There is a certain compulsive watchability to Hunt's downbeat tale in the way Ray must commit one desperate act after another in her misguided effort to avoid the worst Christmas ever. But this very intensity prevents the film from being allowed to breathe--to grant its characters a moment of reflection, to grant us in the audience a chance to get the feel of the locations. A cup of tea--or a glass of Tang--shared between the two women; anything to let us know them better. Instead many little plot details are slipped in, sometimes inconsistently and unconvincingly, complicating things without deepening them. And anybody with minimal perspective would see that this story is rigged, and often carelessly so.

The smuggling runs that constitute the film's claim to "thriller" status are clumsy, wordless affairs. A couple of Chinese men and then a couple of Chinese women are loaded into the trunk and money passed into the car and laboriously counted. For some reason Lila, whose vision is poor, has no glasses, so Ray has to do the counting as well as drive. A Pakistani couple get the same treatment and a hair-raising, and ultimately highly dubious, episode involves their backpack, which Ray tosses into the snow instead of bringing it along. As an example of the shaky writing, Ray expresses complete ignorance of Pakistan yet immediately assumes the couple are terrorists and their bag loaded with explosives or poisons. T.J. too gets into trouble, conning a lady, apparently Indian, into giving him her credit card number over the phone. How do the res police trace this back to him later? Another fudged detail. 'Frozen River' needs a lot of edits and more time spent on developing the sense of place. Despite the ostensible location this has the feel of a generic miserabilist weepy.

Contrast this with Lance Hammer's terrific recent film 'Ballast,' a drama about poor black people in the Mississippi Delta. 'Ballast's' starting points closely resemble 'Frozen River's:' grim poverty, a stark rural setting, family conflict, a missing father, a teenage boy led astray partly because of the mother's inability to cope through a job much like Ray's in 'Frozen River'. But Hammer wisely kept it simple, including a shooting early on not for drama so much as to start things off, thereafter mixing the direness with the everyday, letting the characters emerge as individuals. Religiously pursuing regional flavor, Hammer drew all his actors from the area. He listened to the voices, and created an outstanding sound design. He allowed the story to move in a positive direction. He also let scenes unfold at their own pace, soaking up the atmosphere and allowing the people to seem authentic. Ballast's action is just as intense, but its characters work with what they've got instead of pursuing illegal fantasies. There's never a detail that feels wrong. In 'Frozen River,' many do, some are factually inaccurate, and scenes are awkward.. Hunt's film revels in desperate details, yet has a soft, inconclusive ending. If your people are doomed, let the doom come! Despite the awards, Hunt has a lot to learn.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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English | French | Chinese | Urdu | Mohawk

Release Date:

5 September 2008 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Frozen River See more »


Box Office


$1,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$70,234, 3 August 2008

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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