Frozen River Courtney Hunt

Frozen River Courtney Hunt
Frozen River centres on a solipsistic world of chain-smoking, minimum wage earning single mothers who are driven to crime by an unfair society that "just don’t care.” Condescending exposition and grade school symbolism bog down an often desperately contrived narrative that’s elevated only by a powerful performance from veteran character actor Melissa Leo.

While out searching for her wayward husband, Ray (Melissa Leo) finds her car being driven by a belligerent Mohawk woman named Lila (Misty Upham). After a brief argument, Lila convinces Ray to sell the vehicle to a "friend” who lives on the other side of the frozen St. Lawrence River, in Canada, where a cross-border immigrant smuggling operation is taking place.

Unable to feed her sons Ricky and TJ (James Reilly and Christopher McDermott), Ray becomes wrapped up in these illegalities despite not being particularly fond of the native woman she’s partnered with and warnings from a State Trooper named Finnerty (Michael O’Keefe).

While the dialogue is painfully overt, writer/director Hunt has managed to create a fairly effective world of endless frustrations, minimal hope and palpable isolation where the very worst could happen without a great deal of shock. The character struggles are identifiable and understandable, even if they are crafted with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Without so many glib maternal metaphors and unnecessary explanations, Hunt could have created the stark and powerful indie her passable direction hints at.

Much acclaim for the film will likely stem from Melissa Leo’s raw and unwavering performance as a white trash mama without the education or understanding to escape her confines. While melodrama bubbles around her, Leo never goes over-the-top, keeping her emotions guarded and in check. Misty Upham is fine as the stoic, single-minded Lila, delivering her dialogue with a deliberate flatness, but is an obvious second-fiddle.

Their interaction is one of the few things that isn’t completely spelled out for the audience and remains efficacious when their stories are eventually revealed and their pains are mutually respected.

With a message that touches on an apathetic, unsentimental society without diving into the issue, in addition to some surface notions about the power of maternal instinct, Frozen River struggles to communicate any deeper meaning despite a script that points out its purpose at every turn.

This is exacerbated greatly by an epilogue that seemingly suggests that money can, in fact, buy happiness. (Mongrel Media)