A 'Frozen River,' Treacherous And Deep

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Misty Upham and Melissa Leo i

To support themselves, Lila (Misty Upham, left) and Ray (Melissa Leo) smuggle illegal Pakistani and Chinese immigrants into Canada. Jory Sutton/Sony Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Jory Sutton/Sony Pictures
Misty Upham and Melissa Leo

To support themselves, Lila (Misty Upham, left) and Ray (Melissa Leo) smuggle illegal Pakistani and Chinese immigrants into Canada.

Jory Sutton/Sony Pictures
Melissa Leo and Michael O'Keefe i

As Ray (Leo) becomes enmeshed in the world of smuggling, she finds herself at odds with Trooper Finnerty (Michael O'Keefe). Jory Sutton/Sony Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Jory Sutton/Sony Pictures
Melissa Leo and Michael O'Keefe

As Ray (Leo) becomes enmeshed in the world of smuggling, she finds herself at odds with Trooper Finnerty (Michael O'Keefe).

Jory Sutton/Sony Pictures

Frozen River

  • Director: Courtney Hunt
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 97 minutes

Rated R: Through arduous treks and frosty winters, the women grit their teeth and curse their lot.

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As the summer heats up, let Frozen River wash over you. Let its bracing drama and the intensity of its acting restore your spirits as well as your faith in American independent film.

Frozen River tells the story of two women who end up unlikely partners smuggling illegal immigrants over the Canadian border.

One — the perennially underutilized Melissa Leo, finally getting to carry a film — is a beleaguered wife and mother trying to hold her family together after her husband leaves. The other, played by Misty Upham, is a sullen, hostile Mohawk woman.

These two individuals don't want to be on the same planet, let alone work together. Their powerhouse confrontations are the heart of Frozen River; together, these two exceptional actresses create a film that's spare and unsentimental, as well as intensely dramatic.

First time writer-director Courtney Hunt is especially good at creating the hardscrabble world these characters inhabit, an all-too-plausible universe of frustrated expectations and stunted existences. In a world like this, the worst could plausibly happen and nobody would even blink.

We come to understand how much these exhausted women, tired of being on the short end of the stick, have in common, though they don't necessarily see it. One of the questions Frozen River asks is how much that kinship will mean in an uncaring, unforgiving real world.

It is a powerful question — and the film answers it in a way that will knock you out.

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