Combustible Celluloid
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With: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Mark Boone Junior, Michael O'Keefe, Jay Klaitz, Bernie Littlewolf, Dylan Carusona, Michael Sky, James Reilly
Written by: Courtney Hunt
Directed by: Courtney Hunt
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 97
Date: 01/18/2008

Frozen River (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ice Gals, Finishing Last

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I hope Melissa Leo gets an Oscar nomination for Frozen River, because if she doesn't then the movie will have failed to achieve its single function. (Remember Tumbleweeds, from 1999? Frozen River is the Tumbleweeds of 2008.) Otherwise, we get a so-called "character study" in which the characters bend and fluctuate according to the demands of the plot; the plot controls their every move, rather than characters living and breathing inside a plot. I'm sure writer/director Courtney Hunt tried her best, but there are no small, resting moments in which the characters come to life. It's all big, dramatic moments presented one after another with a distinct lack of rhythm. Leo stars as Ray, a haggard mother of two boys, all living in icy New York State, near the Canadian border. She works a part-time shift at the local "dollar" store, and her husband, a gambling addict, steals the family's savings and flees for parts unknown just days before Christmas. (Hunt shows Leo without makeup and smoking a lot to emphasize the grittiness of this situation.) Looking for her husband, she unwittingly meets Lila (Misty Upham), a Mohawk who works at the local bingo parlor and occasionally smuggles illegal aliens over the border, through Rez territory. Ray realizes that she can make some quick extra cash for things like food, payments on her big-screen rental TV, Christmas presents, and the double-wide trailer that she hopes to move into. Of course, this new vocation is not without its risks, and it all comes down to the "one last big score" before they quit for good. Character actor Mark Boone Junior appears in a welcome small role. If you really want to see what Leo is capable of, and what a great indie film can accomplish, check out The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005).

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