Friday, January 15, 2010

Frozen River. B+

Melissa Leo earned an Oscar nomination for her gritty performance as a mother in desperate need of money in 'Frozen River.' And indeed she was worthy of the recognition, as she not only captures the heavy emotions of her character but also keeps it from becoming a cliche, which it easily could have been. This is also due to first time writer-director Courtney Hunt's dazzling, yet simple screenplay, which, while on the subject of Oscars, was also deservedly nominated. Leo plays Ray Eddy, the mother of two boys (one five, the other fifteen) living in Upstate New York. Her husband has taken their money and run off. Forced to provide for her kids and herself, Ray starts to transport illegal immigrants into the U.S. It's easy, and pays well. With the help of Lila (Misty Upham), she drives across the frozen river to Canada and takes two passengers at a time in the trunk of her car. Ray knows this is wrong but she refuses to confront it. The movie raises the question of what limits we have when trying to provide for the family under severely difficult circumstances. Set at Christmastime, this is a very white and frosty picture. The New York snow is beautiful, captured nicely by cinematographer Reed Dawson Morano. 'Frozen River' is first and foremost a drama, but it also has elements of a thriller, especially towards the end. Yet the movie never loses its plausibility. It's handled with a discreet yet daring approach by Hunt, who looks like a veteran filmmaker with this sharp piece of work. 'Frozen River' is a small movie, easy to praise yet difficult to adore. It doesn't wow the audience like 'Fargo' or 'A Simple Plan.' But it's fueled by Leo's great performance and Hunt's no-nonsense approach, proving that a veteran and a rookie can work together and succeed on all ends.

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