The weight of wa­ter

FROZEN RIVER Di­rected by Court­ney Hunt. Star­ring Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Char­lie McDer­mott, James Reilly, Mark Boone Ju­nior, Michael O’Keefe 12A cert, IFI/IMC Dún Laoghaire, Dublin, 97 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

IT’S TAKEN A while for Court­ney Hunt’s de­but fea­ture to make it across the At­lantic, but, though the pic­ture does have its rough edges, the wait has been worth­while.

Set in the icy cor­ner of New York State that rubs up against the Cana­dian bor­der, Frozen River stars Melissa Leo (re­cip­i­ent of a de­served Os­car nom­i­na­tion) as a hard-work­ing mother who, fol­low­ing an­other aban­don­ment by her use­less, gam­bling hus­band, drifts into the danger­ous world of peo­ple smug­gling. The script may strain the viewer’s credulity from time to time, but Leo throws such raw de­spair at the role that events are never less than en­thralling.

The story kicks off with Leo


trac­ing her hus­band’s stolen car to a nearby Mo­hawk reser­va­tion. She gets into a con­ver­sa­tion with one of the Na­tive Amer­i­can women and, through a se­ries of near ac­ci­dents, ends up as­sist­ing her in trans­port­ing un­doc­u­mented aliens across the tit­u­lar frozen river. Mean­while, her teenage son – a de­cent kid, but a bit way­ward – ex­per­i­ments with credit card fraud as he at­tempts to take care of a younger brother.

Frozen River, a ma­jor win­ner at the 2008 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, creaks and shiv­ers with au­then­tic north­ern at­mos­phere. Swal­lowed be­neath lay­ers of quilted fab­ric, oc­ca­sion­ally break­ing into spon­ta­neous tears, Leo bravely of­fers a face that ap­pears to have been chis­elled by sub-Arc­tic winds and reg­u­lar sleet-storms.

Hunt man­ages to or­gan­ise some tense set pieces, but the plot­ting of the film is a tad awry. Leo’s char­ac­ter em­braces the out­law life a lit­tle too read­ily, the de­noue­ment comes to­gether too quickly, and one ab­surd in­ci­dent in­volv­ing an aban­doned baby would not seem out of place in a Penny Dread­ful.

Still, for all that, Frozen River ex­erts an un­de­ni­able grip. We shall keep our eyes on the promis­ing Ms Hunt.

Os­car nom­i­nee Melissa Leo

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