Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Frozen River

Tang and popcorn. That's what Ray Eddy serves to her kids one morning because she's completely out of money. I've been there; I've been that poor. But I knew it was only temporary, and I didn't have two kids to feed. It's little details like this that make Frozen River such a treasure. That and Melissa Leo's acting.

Ray has led a hard life. You can see it on her face, as every line probably has a story attached to it. Still, she keeps up her optimism and her dreams for her two boys, a 15-year-old, who tries to be too helpful, and a 5-year-old, who wants the dream, too. The movie opens when Ray realizes that her gambling-addicted husband left with the last balloon payment for their newly purchased double-wide trailer, which represents the dream. And things get worse from there.

The setting is the frozen tundra of upstate New York, right at the Canadian border, a couple of days before Christmas. It's a hard life, especially in the winter, and especially with no money, and the upcoming holiday is not a time of joy. The only social life is the bingo parlor on the Mohawk reservation that sits on the frozen St. Lawrence River. The only jobs available are service jobs.

Ray meets Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a Mohawk woman with family problems of her own when Lila tries to steal Ray's husband's abandoned car at the Bingo parlor. Lila talks Ray into making a quick buck -- actually, many of them -- when she makes a smuggling run across the frozen river to run illegal aliens over the border. Lila and Ray become partners in the venture. And if my sense of foreboding was quiet through the first part of the movie, it really kicked up when they went into that dangerous venture together.

The people they meet who are in this business get more and more dangerous and nasty. And the illegal aliens, most of whom cannot speak English, get more and more pitiable or suspect. Are they children? Are they slaves? Are they terrorists? These are questions Ray asks herself every time they crawl into the trunk of her Dodge Spirit. And then she races across the frozen ice, hoping it won't cave in, hoping she'll make enough money, if no one stiffs her, to buy food, Christmas presents, and that double-wide for her family.

This is a small film, but it carries a big impact. The ending isn't all nicey-nicey, like It's a Wonderful Life at Christmastime, but it ties up all the loose ends very nicely. I often talk about a payoff at the end of the movie. Frozen River has a big one, a very satisfying one.

Thumbs 'way up.


Post a Comment

<< Home