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  Frozen River Smuggler's Blues
Year: 2008
Director: Courtney Hunt
Stars: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Michael O'Keefe, Mark Boone Junior, James Reilly, Jay Klaitz, John Canoe, Dylan Carusona, Michael Sky, Gargi Shindi, Rajesh Bose, Azin Jahanbakhsh
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) is suffering a crisis as she wants to buy her new mobile home, but finds that not so easy when her no-good husband has recently left her to spend their savings on his gambling addiction. She has to explain to the delivery man who has brought the trailer this morning that she will have the money soon, but he is less than sympathetic though tells her that if she has the cash by Christmas, she won't lose both the deposit and the home. Now she has to track down her husband before he loses the money, but as things turn out, she stumbles upon a new way of making up her funds...

Frozen River enjoyed a less than high profile release before its leading lady garnered an Oscar nomination, but afterwards it went to show how useful such awards could be for highlighting films and performances that otherwise would not have had much attention. Leo might not have won on the night, but she was rewarded with not only a lot of respect from those who now went out of their way to catch the film, but also a whole bunch of acting offers, not bad for an actress who had been working steadily since the eighties without ever becoming a household name. Was this new acclaim justified?

On this evidence, it certainly was as she put in an unshowy but heartfelt job of her characterisation, all under the direction of a first timer at the helm of any movie, Courtney Hunt. As if that were not impressive enough, Ray winds up being part of an uneasy partnership with Indian Lila, played with similarly understated power by Misty Upham, as circumstances conspire to bring these two mothers together. Lila has Ray's husband's car, and the latter follows the former to her caravan home where there is a confrontation which results in Ray winning the argument, but becoming mixed up in the Mohawk's proposition that she should drive her out over the currently frozen river that borders New York State and Canada.

Most American films about the immigrant problem have the South as a setting, but here was something different as it was the North that illustrated there was an issue there as well. As it looks as if Ray's man will not be joining us for this story, she has to make ends meet for her two sons somehow and her cashier's job won't support them for long, so driving immigrants from Canada to America provides her - as it does Lila - with much needed finances. Of course she's breaking the law, but she is assured the police won't stop a white woman, and she is desperate enough not to consider the moral implications. Not that they are well-defined anyway, as the immigrants are destined for slave labour in the United States.

Hunt made sure we were well aware that this kind of thing would not go unpunished, yet also that we should not condemn the main characters out of hand. They are in dire straits, and the overwhelming mood of misery is one that is difficult to shake even as the film takes a shot at optimism, but what emerges as its strength are the cast and what becomes a surprisingly tense, near-thriller last act as Ray goes on one last run over the ice. It may be a bit of a hackneyed device that her last chance at working things out is what places her in the most jeopardy, but it's effective enough, and besides it has been the authenticity of the performances that has drawn you in. The bonds and loyalty that motherhood brings are a major part of this, as Lila is about to lose her infant son to adoption, and Ray is trying to improve her own sons' lives while praying they don't end up as their father has done - or indeed as their mother has done. Admirably deep if chilly, Frozen River rewarded those who gave it a chance. Music by Peter Golub and Shahzad Ismaily.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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