Solid Performances but Cold Drama
With her husband having cleared off with the money put by for a new trailer things are difficult for Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), working in a part-time job whilst her eldest son looks after hi little brother. When Ray goes looking for her husband the trail leads her to Lila (Misty Upham), a Mohawk who has her car after Lila had found it dumped and planned to use it to illegally smuggle people across the frozen river from Quebec into the United States. In need of the money Ray and Lila collaberate to make the dangerous trips across the ice with just as much danger coming from the Troopers keeping an eye on things.
As "Frozen River" starts we have a close up on Ray's face, dark shadows around the eyes lined with creases speaks volumes of this woman who pensively draws on a cigarette. You immediately know who this woman is even without words as she is a woman who is desperate, has been desperate most of her life and everyday is a fight to survive as she tries to work out her next move. That next move is to do with the fact that her gambling husband has cleared off leaving her nothing, just $7 and change she can scrape together for fuel and with her new trailer due for delivery and to be paid for. It is such a great opening that within the first 10 minutes of "Frozen River" we no Ray, we feel for Ray and wonder what she will do to survive.
We then meet Lila, a Mohawk who has trouble seeing and as we learn has not only been caught smuggling before but her mother-in-law has taken her one year old son and won't return him. Again we quickly get to understand Lila, she is tough yet vulnerable but also feels helpless like she has no chance of getting her son back. These two women make a fascinating pair, two desperate mothers, two very different mothers who become friends through smuggling illegal immigrants across the frozen river.
As such when "Frozen River" focuses on these women's situations it works as their situations are interesting. Unfortunately when it focuses on them working together to transport illegal immigrants across the river and dealing with a State Trooper it is uniteresting and a bit too contrived. I won't go into detail but a scene revolving around a Pakistani family and their bag is just too far fetched and lacks the drama it is reaching for.
But despite this "Frozen River" still works and much of that is down to the casting of Melissa Leo and Misty Upham who as Ray and Lila deliver great characterisations. Leo gets across that element of a life of struggle which has forced Ray to become tough beyond imagination yet still holding on to an element of insecurity when out of her comfort zone. And Upham delivers the bullishness of youth but one who has vulnerability as well because of the situation with her child.
What this all boils down to is that I wouldn't say that "Frozen River" is a great movie although it was entertaining to watch. But I would say it features two very well thought out characters and two actors who deliver those characters perfectly which is where "Frozen River" is at its most entertaining.