Sunday, 19 July 2009

Frozen River movie review

Ray and her two sons, 15 year old TJ & little Ricky, have been abandoned by their gambling addicted husband/father a week before Christmas along with the final deposit on their new home, a double-sided trailer home. They live in a much smaller trailer with inadequate insulation, up on the Canadian border of New York State. Despite the hardness of their existence Ray does not give up. She continues to demand good standards from her sons and stretches the contents of her purse as far as it goes. A family cannot live on popcorn and Tang alone however.
A chance encounter with Lily, a native American, on the Mohawk reservation sees Ray driving her car across the frozen river of St Lawrence which divides New York from Quebec, Canada. Lily explains that Mohawk land spans either side of the river and that the local police have no jurisdiction on the reservation which polices itself. Once in Canada, Ray discovers that her pop-up boot can be used to ferry two illegal immigrants into the United States and receive $2,400 for her trouble.
Earning this kind of money in a short period of time is a little too tempting and Ray and Lily’s relationship goes from one of suspicion, to convenience and finally to respect and friendship. Ironically, as it is gambling that has Ray in this predicament, it is the gamble of just “one more run” that sets the story up for a tense finish with not quite the outcome you might expect from an American film.
The heart of the story though is played out in one vignette of a Pakistani immigrant couple who lose their baby on the river. A mother’s grief at the thought of losing a child and her strength to protect are strong emotional foundations for this film. Ray is prepared to do whatever it takes to raise her boys and provide for them while Lily has a grief all of her own concerning her one year old son.
Melissa Leo, who plays Ray, was nominated for Best Actress for this performance. She brings a fierce working class dignity to her role where who you are and what you do counts for so much more than status or possessions. You quietly begin to admire how she raises her kids and understand why she doesn’t pursue her husband who has headed south. Its not for no reason that micro-finance lending operations in the third world lend money to the wives and mothers for start up ventures.
Misty Upham (Lila) likewise brings a simple dignity to her role despite being on the receiving end of many of life’s hardships. Note how she snatches her opportunity in both hands at the end of the film.
This is writer/director Courtney Hunt’s first feature.
A 4 out of 5 film where we care about the characters and what becomes of them.

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