Friday, August 8, 2008

Reviews In Brief: "Frozen River" (Courtney Hunt, 2008)

Despite its relative predictability, Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Frozen River succeeds mainly because its simple is propelled by an extremely complex performance from its lead actress Melissa Leo. This well executed blend takes a standard, fairly forgettable film and turns it into something memorable. Destined to be labeled "this year's Amy Ryan", Leo, a veteran character actress with notable turns in 21 Grams (and, so I hear, on the TV show Homicide: Life on the Streets), gives an awards worthy performance (yes, that means you, Mr. Oscar). Using classic westerns as a reference, Leo's characters is brash and confrontational yet she still manages to bring supreme depth to a character who doesn't always hide her emotions or rather bigoted worldview.

Leo stars as Ray Eddy, a struggling mother in up-up-upstate New York who begins helping Lila (Misty Upham) smuggle illegal immigrants across the US/Canada border in an attempt to reunite her broken family. Writer and director Courtney Hunt, who originally wrote and directed Frozen River as a short film which successfully played at the New York Film Festival, never makes Frozen River explicitly political as could easily have been the case; instead she keeps the film firmly in the structure of classic filial melodrama. Though this more traditional route makes the film feel standard and predictable (let's be clear, though...this is no Lifetime movie), it creates a wealth of material for Hunt and Leo to create a deep, emotional complexity that keeps Frozen River fresh and worth watching.

by James Hansen

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