‘Frozen River’ soars | AspenTimes.com

‘Frozen River’ soars

Roger Ebert
Universal Press Syndicate
Aspen, CO Colorado
Sony Pictures ClassicsMisty Upham, left, and Melissa Leo in "Frozen River."

Sometimes two performances come along that are so perfectly matched that no overt signals are needed to show how the characters feel about each other. That’s what happens between Melissa Leo and Misty Upham in “Frozen River,” playing two mothers who live without male support in shabby house trailers on the U.S.-Quebec border: Mohawk territory.

Leo plays Ray Eddy, whose husband left his car at a Mohawk bingo parlor and disappeared, perhaps on the bus to Atlantic City. He is an addicted gambler and has taken all the money they were saving to buy a better trail­er. Ray scrapes by on a part-time job at the Yankee One Dollar store, and until payday, her kids, 15 and 5, are din­ing on popcorn and Tang.

Upham plays Lila Littlewolf, a Mohawk who works at the bingo hall and lives alone; her mother-in-law has “stolen” her 1-year-old. The two women meet after Lila finds the keys in the husband’s abandoned car and drives it away, and Ray follows her home: “That’s my car.” Lila says she knows a smuggler who will give her $2,000 for it, no questions asked. She knows a lot more than that, which is how Ray finds them both in the business of smuggling aliens across the border into the United States. This involves the two women in making hazardous car trips across the ice of a frozen river, dealing with unsavory types on both sides and carrying Chinese and Pakistanis in the trunk.

“Frozen River,” a debut film written and directed by Courtney Hunt, never steps wrong. It resists all tempta­tions to turn this plot into some kind of a thriller and keeps it grounded on the struggle for economic survival. The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2008, it is one of those rare independent films that knows precise­ly what it intends and what the meaning of the story is.

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