In the film, “Frozen River,” the audience is treated to a tour-de-force performance by Academy Award-nominated actress Melissa Leo. She plays a down on her luck minimum wage worker, Ray Eddy, who struggles to cope with paying the bills. The woman will do anything to keep her two young sons from knowing how bad off they truly are. The only food in their ill equipped trailer consists of Tang and popcorn, and their dream is the hope of obtaining a doublewide—however, Ray just can’t seem to make the payments.
The opening scene of the movie shows Ray sitting outside in a disheveled robe, smoking a cigarette. Set in upstate New York, there is snow covering the lawn, and her breath comes out in puffs. Tears stream down her cheeks, and the audience learns that Ray’s husband has run off and her job at the local dollar store is hardly helping to make ends meet. The audience can fully appreciate why Ray makes tough choices throughout the film—she will do anything to keep her children safe and cared for.
While pursuing her wayward husband, who has a gambling problem, Ray crosses paths with a woman who lives on the Mohawk reservation, between New York state and Quebec. The woman, Lila Littlewolf, works as a smuggler, driving illegal immigrants across the border. Because of the money (more than Ray makes in months,) they form an unlikely crime duo. Although visually, the two women couldn’t be more different, their goals are the same—to provide for their families.
Leo’s acting in the film is superb. Her emotions are raw, and the director, Courtney Hunt, makes a wise choice to center many scenes on Leo’s expressive face. Leo’s acting is incomparable to most actresses of today (with possibly the exception of Kate Winslet who beat Leo for the Best Actress award at this year’s Oscars.) Despite Leo’s impressive acting, Misty Upham, as Lila, more than holds her own. As a woman desperately trying to pull her life together, Lila is a sympathetic character that the audience instinctively finds themselves rooting for.
The scenery is hauntingly beautiful in “Frozen River.” White snow covers everything, and the filmmaker often includes scenes of eerie quiet. The silence plays nicely with the building tension present in the movie. The two women face increasingly dangerous situations when they get more involved in the smuggling world. The audience feels as though something bad is going to happen, and the foreshadowing continues throughout much of the film. Although the movie runs about 97 minutes (relatively short by most filmmaking standards,) the audience experiences a festering feeling that the movie won’t end well for the main characters. The movie ends realistically, which helps to explain why it is so well crafted.
Hunt, who was also the screenwriter, should be commended for her incredibly moving script—she was also nominated for an Oscar for this project. Even though the movie is a tale of two downtrodden women, there is an evident feeling of triumph throughout the movie. Lila and Ray are portrayed as strong female characters who do what is necessary to protect their families. The sense of reality brought to the film by the two actresses allows for an impressive demonstration of the lengths people will go to in order to overcome adversity.