There are a lot of great movies that somehow never make it into the public eye and Frozen River is one of those films. It deserves to be seen–and probably deserved a lot more national attention than what it actually got.
The film is set in the fictional town Massena, New York, the Akwesasne St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, and–believe it or not–the St. Lawrence River that marks the Canadian border. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) is raising two sons, age 5 and 15, with a husband who is addicted to gambling. When the film opens, he has just run off to Atlantic City with their savings, intended as the balloon payment on a new double wide trailer home. The opening shot shows Ray as she sits in her car smoking and crying, the glove box where the money was kept sitting empty. The camera pans up her body to her face, the extreme close-up showing vividly how life has torn this woman apart.
She works in a discount store part time and the family is now in a desperate situation, with practically no money to survive. Dinner consists of popcorn and Tang and the film unrolls with the threat of having their TV repossessed.
When a Mohawk girl, Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) steals the car Ray’s husband had left at the bus station, she chases the girl down. Lila tells her that she knows someone on the rez who will buy the car for $2,000, so they set off across the frozen river to the Canadian side of the Mohawk reservation. But instead of selling the car, they are passed $1200 and asked to pop the trunk. When they do, two illegal aliens jump in.
This new source of income intrigues Ray and she returns to Lila to do another transfer. And so, the two become embroiled in a life of illegal gains that make both of their lives better. And over time, an unlikely friendship develops between them.
Written and directed by Courtney Hunt, this wonderful film stars Melissa Leo a haunting, true-to-life performance that won her multiple awards. Although she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, she did not win. Courtney Hunt was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and also did not win. Throughout the world, the film was nominated for an won a great many awards. Besides great acting and directing, the cinematography in the film is truly outstanding, presenting us with a realistic winter life on the very edge of survival.
At 93 minutes, it is nearly the perfect length. I highly recommend this movie for all to see.