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frozenriverpic.jpgSo far my favorite movie–okay, actually the only movie I have really enjoyed so far here at the Traverse City Film Festival– has to be “Frozen River.” It was a prize winner at Sundance earlier this year (Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic) and it opens in limited release today.
Although it’s being compared to “Thelma and Louise” and” Fargo,” that’s selling the film short. “Frozen River” is one of those rare movies that combines great acting, an unconventional plot, and powerful, yet subtle, thematic social commentary.


The economic and social consequences of gambling, poverty, and human trafficking are mixed together and funneled through one simple story of two mothers who become unlikely allies. Ray (played by Melissa Leo), a woman whose gambling-addicted husband has taken off with the money for their new double-wide mobile home, and Lila, a Mohawk woman who has lived a life of poverty on a reservation join forces–under desperate circumstances–to smuggle illegal immigrants from Canada to the U.S. by traveling over the frozen St. Lawrence River. A state trooper becomes suspicious of their activities, as does Ray’s oldest son, and soon the women are in more trouble than they planned.
One of the reasons I loved this movie is that it touches on very real problems in our society that aren’t discussed much: the proliferation of casinos on reservations in small town America, the prejudice that still exists toward Native Americans, and the culture of poverty itself. However, none of this is done in a heavy-handed manner, but through the shortest of terse conversations between Lila and Ray, or through a simple look from a stranger.
This movie also celebrates the powerful bonds of motherhood in a surprising and refreshing way. This movie is worth seeing for one unforgettable moment during a Christmas Eve run that is the best representation of grace that I have seen in a movie this year.
“Frozen River” may be hard to find in theaters right now, but hopefully as we get closer to Oscar season, you will have the opportunity to catch this moving portrayal of the dark side of the modern American Dream.
Melissa-Leo at LocateTV.com

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