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Frozen River
UKScreen Rating:


Ray (Leo) is a single mother, trying to make ends meet in a dead-end job after her husband left her.
Her home is a small caravan, in the north of New York state – with nothing but a Mohawk reservation separates her from the Canadian border.
After leaving work one day, she spots her husband’s car in the car park and follows a woman who drives it away.
When confronted at her home, this native American woman, Lila (Upham), refuses to return the car, but sensing Ray’s financial difficulties, she tells her she knows someone who’ll give her good money for the car and she’ll take a cut.
Dubious, Ray goes along with Lila and finds out that she has another way entirely of making money from the car – smuggling immigrants across the border from Canada in the boot, driving across the frozen river that marks the border, through the middle of the Mohawk reservation, where the American police have no jurisdiction.
An unlikely bond develops between the two women, as Ray realises that she might be able to afford the larger mobile home she’s ordered, but can’t pay for – until a local policeman begins to cotton on to what’s going on.
Can she get out in time – or is one last job too tempting a prospect?


This is a low-key, low-budget film about something we see very rarely that seems so obviously suited to the big screen.
From the desolate landscapes, to the unlikely friendship, the people smugglers and the family drama, it’s the perfect combination for a tremendously powerful story. It seems amazing that there haven’t been more films tackling a combination of these issues in the past.
It’s equally amazing that Courtney Hunt had the trouble she did finding her low budget to shoot it.
It was only through festival success at Sundance and a thoroughly deserved Oscar-nomination for Melissa Leo that Frozen River got any recognition.
Leo aside, the performances, it has to be said, are fairly average, and many of the performing characters are rather simplistically drawn, but Leo’s Ray is more than strong enough to carry the film.
As the story unrolls, at a quickening pace, it provides a fascinating insight into relations between the white and native American communities, told through a powerful drama, revealing a desperate woman’s conflict between her love for her children, her desire for a new home, her need to escape her hollow existence and her base compulsion to earn – and how much is she prepared to put on the line for it? Like so much else in life, everything really just comes down to money.
A failing is perhaps a lack of any really sympathetic characters. A success is the fact that despite her failings, Leo still persuades us to root for Ray.

opens nationwide 17th July 2009



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