After her husband robs and leaves her, a newly single mom turns to
smuggling illegals across the Canadian border as a way to make money.
Frozen River (2008)
Written and Directed by Courtney Hunt
Starring Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott,
Michael O'Keefe, Mark Boone Junior, John Canoe, Jay Klaitz
Oscar Nominations - Best Actress (Melissa Leo),
Best Original Screenplay
Frozen River has the beginnings of a truly compelling indie drama. Problem is it's over before it can really begin. I'll let slide the glaring similarities to the first season of Breaking Bad (which aired January of 2008; this film came out in September), but overall this film feels like the first act of something better. Melissa Leo delivers a strong performance, and the characters are well-written. But I wanted a stronger narrative and higher stakes. If a newly single mother of two is going to suddenly become a Canadian coyote, she's gotta be completely out of options before even considering it. But it never feels like her one out.
Ray Eddy (Leo) is saving up to buy her repossessed house back, but one day her dirtbag husband takes off with the money and doesn't come back. Now broke and desperate, Ray meets Lila (Upham), a Native American who lives on the nearby Mohawk reservation that bleeds into Canada. Lila tells Ray that illegal immigrants cross the frozen river there because there isn't any border patrol in the area. Ray and Lila become smuggling partners, but Ray is in over her head and quickly realizes it. There's a scene involving a baby that's pretty damn heartbreaking. Mark Boone Junior has a chance to be an interesting villain, but he's barely in it. More wasted potential.
Frozen River has the foundation of a strong crime drama, but never goes as dark as a film like this could go. It scratches the surface, but there aren't any real consequences for Ray's actions beyond some minor jail time. The lesson here should be something in the vein of "crime doesn't pay," but the lesson really ends up being "crime pays if you're white," which is true but also a real bummer.