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February 17, 2009

DVD of the Week – Review of Frozen River (2008)


Writer-director Courtney Hunt makes it seem so effortless in her debut film Frozen River, which surprisingly garnered two Oscar nominations despite its low profile. I realize that there is much more to filmmaking than this (and I know that Courtney Hunt had to work hard to secure funding for the film), but sometimes it seems as though all a director needs to do is find a good story, hire some good actors, and let things unfold.

In upstate New York, Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo, nominated for Best Actress for this film) finds that her husband has left her with two kids, making off with the money they had saved to buy a new house. She does not find her husband, but does find his car which has been stolen by a Native American woman Lila (Misty Upham), who intends to use it to smuggle illegal immigrants across the American border. When Ray finds out that this smuggling operation can be profitable, she enters into a partnership. Ray is determined to buy that house and Lila only wants her son back, who has been stolen by Lila’s mother-in-law.

The plot might sound terribly melodramatic, but the film is able to get away with heavy-handed moments due to its understated nature. Even when the film takes major dramatic risks, the actors don’t overreact to the situations, but simply present realistic portrayals of what their characters would do.

This is a film that I would feel comfortable recommending to almost anyone. The storytelling is straightforward and the film is, essentially, a thriller, as the two women in this film find it increasingly hard to steer clear of the law.

The film does appropriately touch upon the moral and political implications of smuggling illegal immigrants, but, to the film’s credit, it does not dwell on the issue. It places the focus on the characters rather than the politics, which is where it belongs.

The film is available on both regular DVD and Blu-ray and the only feature of consequence is a commentary track by Hunt and producer Heather Rae.

New releases this week: Body of Lies, Changeling, Choke, Flash of Genius, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, I Served the King of England, Quarantine, Religulous