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This Week in Film: Frozen River

Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic

ImageA solid indie drama that shows how easy it is to find your dark side.

Having once lived in Montréal, I actually know the town where Frozen River takes place. It’s Massena, New York, a few miles from the Canadian border and in the winter it’s every bit as cold and grey as the film depicts. I was not aware however that it sits on a Mohawk reservation. This is one of those films that depict a slice of life that most of us aren’t privy too and it seems to know its subject inside and out. 

Melissa Leo (21 Grams) is Ray Eddy, mother of two boys, whose husband has abandoned them in order to gamble away the money that was supposed to be spent on a down payment for their new double-wide home. Having a double-wide may not sound like much but to her and the kids it’s everything. Her oldest son, 15 year old T.J (Charlie McDermott) wants to get a job but Ray won’t let him, she wants him to get a good education. One day while searching for her husband she finds that his car has been stolen by a local native woman named Lila (Misty Upham). After a somewhat violent confrontation, Lila offers her two thousand bucks for the car but Ray doesn’t realize that she’ll have to help Lila with her smuggling business where she transports illegal aliens across the border. After agreeing to do it once, Ray decides that she needs to do it a few more times in order to pay for the house. 

Frozen River is independent filmmaking at its best, both vital and timely.  Writer/Director Courtney Hunt shows how otherwise law abiding people can be driven to do some shady things when there are no other options. While there may still be a great divide between Natives and non-Natives, the film depicts how economic hardship has no boundaries and in fact unites us. As Lila and Ray make those dangerous trips across the border with state troopers lurking all around them, Hunt pays considerable attention to the small details of human smuggling, and the result is a constant state of dread as if anything can go awry at any time. Leo is absolutely brilliant as Ray, and Upham (raised in Seattle) is a pure revelation as Lila. Frozen River shines a light on a dark corner of our nation, one that is an unfortunate result of a useless immigration policy and a failing economy.

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