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Frozen River

Critic's Pick Critics' Pick

(No longer in theaters)
  • Rating: R — for some language
  • Director: Courtney Hunt   Cast: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Michael O'Keefe, Mark Boone Junior, Charlie McDermott
  • Running Time: 97 minutes
  • Reader Rating: Write a Review




Chip Hourihan


Sony Pictures Classics

Release Date

Aug 1, 2008

Release Notes


Official Website


Frozen River is unusually crafty for a Sundance-heralded socially conscious regional indie drama. After some evocative images (blue-gray ice, bridge to Canada, close-up of Melissa Leo suffering), the plot kicks into gear. The family’s new trailer home arrives, only Ray (Leo) can’t pay because her gambler husband has vanished with the cash. (Her younger son, who’d already packed his suitcase, watches, devastated.) Ray searches for her husband at the bus stop, also a Mohawk-run bingo hall, and finds his car in the lot and a young Mohawk woman, Lila (Misty Upham), with the keys. Ray pulls a gun on her, the gun switches hands a couple of times, they go see some sleazy people on the Canada side, and the two women end up joining forces (uneasily) to drive illegal immigrants across the frozen river into the U.S. It’s dangerous—but Ray’s spouse is awol, the Yankee Dollar won’t make her a manager, and she needs the money for that trailer and something more than popcorn for her two sons’ dinner.

The writer and director, Courtney Hunt, knows how to tell a story on film, and how to shoot her actors so they look as if they’re always in mid-thought—desperately trying to calculate their next moves. Melissa Leo has a lithe, alert body on a face that shows its living—she’s powerfully centered, like the movie. All in all, Frozen River is gripping stuff. Except it’s also rigged and cheaply manipulative. There’s a turn near the end involving a young Pakistani couple—for some reason Ray decides they’re terrorists—that’s outlandish on every conceivable level. And the ending … Surely Hunt didn’t mean to, but her testament to American gumption in the face of crushing poverty ends up affirming that crime pays, social consequences be damned.

In Vulture:
Frozen River Director on Winning at Sundance and Falling Asleep at the Camera

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