Sunday, March 01, 2009

Frozen River: Grade A

Frozen River (2008)
Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott; Writer-director Courtney Hunt.

A single mother (Leo) lives with her two sons in a tin-box trailer in New York, right near the Canadian border and the Mohawk reservation. Her life is the picture of low income desperation. In the darkness of winter she works part-time at a Dollar Store trying to stay ahead of the the Rent to Own company coming to take the TV. She serves the kids popcorn and Tang for dinner. The older son (McDermott) accuses her of driving away her no-good gambler husband. The bleakness of their lives is unmerciful.

Leo meets a Mohawk woman (Upham) who offers to buy her husband’s car if she will accompany her on an errand to get the money. They drive a cross a frozen river into Canada and make several stops where seedy-looking guys take something from the trunk, we presume drugs, and hand over cash. Despite their mutual cultural, racial, and personal distrust, they continue the relationship to keep the money flowing. The job evolves into smuggling immigrants into the U.S. In a masterpiece of writing, the women do finally come to trust each other completely.

Cinematography is outstanding, for the vast emptiness of the river and the claustrophobic interiors. Dialogs are so realistic you never lose sight of the characters. Excellent acting is what makes this movie stand out. It made only $70K on its first weekend, showing on 7 screens, but the word got out and now it makes 2.5 million a week and Melissa Leo was nominated for an Oscar and Upham won best supporting in the American Indian Movie Awards.

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