Life in Massena is as harsh and barren as the frigid landscape. In this bleak terrain, two hardened single mothers are trying to make lives for their children. Lila is a widowed Mohawk whose mother-in-law "stole" her newborn son a year ago. Ray is a mother of two whose gambling-addicted husband just left town with the down payment for their new trailer home. Faced with little opportunity to make ends meet, Ray and Lila embark on an illegal venture transporting immigrants into the U.S. across Mohawk territory. With the money for the down payment within Ray's grasp, the women are determined to make one last run. When circumstances spiral out of control, the two women must make life or death decisions based on their friendship and love for their children.
When her husband runs off with the payment for their new home, Ray (Melissa Leo, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
) turns to crime to keep herself and her two sons afloat. A chance encounter with Lila (Misty Upham, Edge of America
), an equally desperate young Mohawk woman, leads Ray to smuggling illegal immigrants by driving across the frozen Hudson River onto tribal land. But with every trip, things go wrong in small and not-so-small ways, until Ray finds herself pushed into a more desperate corner than ever before. Leo delivers a gritty, restrained, but richly compelling performance; her raw face, beautiful but worn down by life, radiates a weary defiance. Frozen River
has scenes as tense as any Hollywood thriller, but so grounded in the fully developed characters of these two women that the taut suspense grips the full spectrum of your emotions. This is an impressive debut by writer/director Courtney Hunt, featuring excellent supporting performances by Charlie McDermott (The Ten
) as Ray's unhappy oldest son and Michael O'Keefe (The Great Santini
) as a suspicious state trooper. --Bret Fetzer
Stills from Frozen River (click for larger image)