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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's move now from the flow of vegetables to the flow of people. The market for illegal labor in the United States comes to life in a new film. It's called "Frozen River." It's in theaters now. Early this year, "Frozen River" won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, which is where Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan fell in love it.

KENNETH TURAN: 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 is a beleaguered wife and mother, tries to hold her family together after her husband leaves. The other is a sullen, hostile, Mohawk woman.

(Soundbite of movie, "Frozen River")

Ms. MELISSA LEO (Actor): (As Ray) I'm not going anywhere until those people get out of my trunk.

Ms. MISTY UPHAM (Actor): (As Lila) I'll give you half. Now, let's go. Let's go.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) I'm not taking them across the border. It's a crime.

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) There's no border here. There's this free trade between nations.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) This isn't a nation.

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) Let's go.

TURAN: These two individuals don't want to be on the same planet, let alone work together. But circumstance and coincidence bring them together. Their powerhouse confrontations are the heart of the film.

(Soundbite of movie, "Frozen River")

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) What are you doing with my car?

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) I found it.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) You stole it.

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) It had the keys in it.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) So you just took it?

(Soundbite of car door closing)

Ms. LEO: (As Lila) We'll see what the troopers have to say about that.

TURAN: That's the perennially underutilized Melissa Leo finally getting to carry a film as a deserted wife, and Misty Upham, as her angry nemesis. Together, these two actresses create a film that's spare and unsentimental, as well as intensely dramatic.

(Soundbite of movie, "Frozen River")

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) She stole them from me.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) Stole them?

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) Yeah, right out of the hospital.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) Did you call the cops?

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) Tribal police don't get involved in stuff like that.

TURAN: First time writer-director Courtney Hunt is especially good at creating the hard hardscrabble world these characters inhabit, an all-too-plausible universe of frustrated expectations and stunted existences. In a world like this, the worst could 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's a powerful question, and the film answers it in a way that will knock you out.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews films for the L.A. Times and MORNING EDITION. You will find scenes from "Frozen River," as well as a review of the summer thriller "Transsiberian" by going to our Web site: npr.org.

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