Directed by: Courtney Hunt
Premise: A woman with severe financial problems (Melissa Leo) begins transporting illegal immigrants over a Mohawk Indian reservation that cuts across the United States and Canadian border.
What Works: Frozen River is a small, intimate picture on the scope and scale of a film like Tender Mercies. It is also up to that level of quality; the film is extremely well edited and shot. While it does not use a lot of wide, panoramic views of the winter struck landscape, it does manage to use the setting to its advantage both in the plot of the story and in creating a cold and oppressive tone. The character work in Frozen River is really what sets it apart and elevates it above other films. In lots of productions, people like the lead character, living in a trailer and working as a clerk at a convenience store, would be relegated to a stereotyped white-trash portrayal or be set on an adventure that ends with all of their dreams coming true. Frozen River has much more respect for its characters and its audience and tells a story about people who have been cornered financially, emotionally, and socially and how they make hard choices in order to survive. One of the things the film does quite brilliantly is to use the promise of a home as both a literal and a symbolic goal for main character and her family. As the film pushes toward its climax it manages to get quite touching and even mildly profound not through hysterics and sentimentality but rather through quiet but intense scenes that are full of meaning to the characters and to the story.
What Doesn’t: There is a subplot to the story about the main character’s older son (Charlie McDermott) engaging in credit card fraud. This subplot is mostly dropped and is not used as effectively as it could be.
DVD extras: Commentary track.
Bottom Line: Frozen River is a terrific film with some great performances. The film has not gotten as much attention as it deserves but it is a diamond in the rough that is worth viewing.
Episode: #236 (April 16, 2009)