Some films need that extra jolt -that extra something that keeps everything together.
For the 2008 independent film Frozen River, Melissa Leo was just that. Frozen River details the struggles that two single moms face in northern New York State on a Mohawk reservation when the lure of fast money from smuggling illegal immigrants across borders is presented in front of them.
At the core of Frozen River, the directorial debut of Courtney Hunt, is a simple noir-inspired story about a single mom striving to provide for her two sons leading her to venture into the world of smuggling. It’s noir-inspired for its everyday person gets wrapped up in crime that’s far over their head for the lure of money and simple for its straightforward narrative and minimalistic feel.
In no way of denying Hunt for her tremendous debut in film, this film wouldn’t be what it was without the under-appreciated Leo. She makes the character of Ray Eddy her own the same way Mickey Rourke made Randy “The Ram” Robinson his own in 2008’s The Wrestler. Both actors took control of their respective characters and let the grief pour out of the screen.
What comes of Leo’s performance is the driving force of a thought-provoking character study centered on ethical decisions. Leo gives a certain life to Ray Eddy. So stricken with grief, it’s absolutely painful watching her strive so hard to provide a simple double-wide house for her two boys; something most of us might cringe at if told to live in.
With only one other performance sticking out (Misty Upham’s performance as the second single mom, Lila), Leo is absolutely essential to keep the emotion in the film alive. A lackluster performance in her role might have spelled disaster for a film of such nature. Again, with no discredit to Hunt, Frozen River hinges on Leo’s performance.
Frozen River is a beautifully heartbreaking film and there’s no other way for me to describe it.
While the film runs at less than two hours it is a rather slow moving film. It’s a stark character study of two single moms absolutely struggling to keep their lives afloat. Each has her problems and each is dealt with.
While Milk might be a frontrunner for best screenplay written directly for the screen at this year’s Oscars, Hunt certainly deserves all the consideration in the world for her gripping tale of despair, struggle and ethical decisions.
This film is a keeper if only for the performances of both Leo and Upham.
Leo is a dark horse candidate for best actress at the Oscars. Hunt’s minimalist cinematography is calming and keeps a close eye on the things that matter.
The story is simple but absolutely engaging and involving. Frozen River is one of the independent hits of 2008.
-Michael Walsh, Asst. Entertainment Editor