Old 12-28-2008, 07:28 PM
Frozen River

Frozen River (2008)

This is a movie that feels like it could have been ripped straight from the headlines of the past few years. Immigration is an issue that is in constant discussion with illegal aliens crossing the borders every day. You've probably heard the stories of how they cross illegally through checkpoints or across a fence and how they are caught many times in the process, but what happens when there isn't an actual physical border?

"Frozen River" tells the story of Ray (Melissa Leo) who has two kids and whose husband has recently run off. She works at a local dollar store and is very hard-up for money, barely being able to make payments on her home and possessions. When she finds her husband's car being driven by another woman, Lila (Misty Upham), she follows her and demands the car back. When Lila suggests that she might be able to sell the car to a friend of hers, Ray ends up getting dragged into a smuggling ring where she helps brings immigrants into the United States from Canada via a frozen lake. Ray suddenly finds herself making a lot of money from just a couple hours work, which leads her to request Lila's help in getting similar jobs.

This is writer/director Courtney Hunt's first screenplay and film, and it is a good first attempt. It seemed sort of random to have a poor white woman team up with a Mohawk Indian woman to smuggle immigrants across a lake in the trunk of a car, but Hunt makes this story work rather well. The last film I can recall that dealt even slightly with border issues was the brilliant "Babel," but "Frozen River" takes a different look at immigration by quite literally bypassing all the checkpoints, customs, and everything usually associated with border patrol.

The relationship between Ray and Lila may have seemed random, but these are two women who were brought together under very unusual, desperate circumstances. Ray is trying to make enough money to move her family from the small trailer they are in now to a bigger one, and Lila wants money because she wants to start supporting her child who was stolen away from her by her mother-in-law.

The lead actresses playing Ray and Lila, Melissa Leo and Misty Upham, were also very impressive. Having looked at their filmographies on IMDB, it turns out I have not seen any of their previous work except for Leo's small part in "Hide and Seek" (I don't even want to get into how bad that movie was!), but I really enjoyed what they did with these roles. Despite their relationship looking very awkward on screen, they had great chemistry together.

Critics have been praising this movie all year, calling it one of the year's best, but I didn't really see anything that special about it. The story was decent, but overly simple, with a conclusion that seemed a bit contrived. I was hoping for an original ending to what had been a pretty unique story, but instead got the ending that I had seen coming from a mile away.

I would have liked to see a few more scenes involving her sons. Ray's oldest, T.J. (Charlie McDermott) gets a few scenes where he helps his mom out by getting his brother a Christmas gift by mischievous means. This leads to a rather awkward scene at the end where an officer confronts the boy about it and has T.J. apologize to the person he ripped off. All the officer tells him is to "not do it again." This came off as rather silly and immediately reminded me of the scene from "Monty Python and the Life of Brian" where the Roman has Brian write "Romans go home" 100 times and then tells him "don't do it again."

This film is still worth seeing for its unique take on illegal immigration, but also for the very impressive lead performances. It makes you wonder what people are willing to do and what they are willing to risk for money. It even makes you question what you would do if you were placed under similar circumstances. 3/4 stars.
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Old 01-08-2009, 01:55 PM

An engaging, heartfelt performance by Melissa Leo gets balanced out by a really stilted performance by Misty Upham. The use of the chirpy little kid feels manipulative. The central scene where the Pakistani couple's kid gets left behind on the ice also feels awkwardly staged. I don't know why the kid was in the duffel bag, I don't know why they couldn't communicate before that there was a kid in the bag. The reaction of the two leads when the kid was presumed dead was all wrong. You'd think as mothers that they'd be more upset. Instead, they were very matter-of-fact about it. And then the kid coming back to life felt safe. However, even with all these faults, it is a solid effort and I appreciated the depiction of characters that we don't normally see. Also, kudos for not being TOO heavy-handed with the race issue.

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