Dir. Courtney Hunt
Starring: Melissa Leo
If this film had been cut to only the last twenty minutes, it would be incredible. Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River, has the unfortunate circumstance of providing a compelling story but feels too slow for the first hour and only picks up only during the final act. This may cause some to decide to stop watching the film halfway through but those who do stick around are rewards with an interesting story.
Melissa Leo plays Ray, a woman who is struggling to make ends meet in Northern New York state. Her husband has run off with the funds that she had been saving to buy a new house and she is stuck during the holiday season trying to survive and maintain her sanity. She has two children, teenaged T.J. (Charlie McDermott) and his younger brother Ricky (James Reilly). T.J. acts like the man of the house and often protects Ricky from the situation that his family is in. He defends his father much to the ire of his mother.
Ray looks for her husband but only turns up his car, which is being driven off a Mohawk bingo hall by a native woman, Lila (Misty Upham). The woman entices Ray to drive to Canada through a non-maintained border-crossing which is essentially a frozen river to smuggle immigrants over the border. The relationship is rocky as the only reason either one of them stays in the car with the other woman for longer than five-minutes is because they’re being held there by gunpoint. Eventually, their relationship begins to soften as the police begin to wise up to the couple. The story reaches it’s apex on Christmas Eve when a job the two women are performing goes horribly wrong.
The story is very well done and captures the essence of the complexity between the relationship of natives living on the reservation and non-natives living close by. All the actors do a great job in immersing the viewer into the atmosphere of the situation. The viewer senses the tension between the native and non-native groups. The film does a great job at not treating one group more favourably. It does not give the sense that there is any person who is doing the right or wrong thing. The movie is presented objectively and lets the viewer make up their own opinions about the groups and characters.
The main and only big problem with the movie is that it too slow at the beginning. Even though the film does a good job at introducing the characters and revealing their motives and intentions, it feels like the movie is not going anywhere for over half of it. The ending may feel too far away for some. The pacing feels weird for the movie because when the film does begin to hit it’s stride, it goes maybe a little too fast. To put it more bluntly, the movie ends when it finally starts to get good. The ending is really good although some may question the end result. The story does come full circle even if it does take it’s sweet time getting there.
Frozen River feels like a festival film so that automatically give it/takes away points for some. It can be bland at times and not all that inviting but once the film starts to take off, it is very enjoyable. The performances are high quality and the story is very compelling. If you can survive the beginning, it is very enjoyable.