Socialist Worker

Frozen River

by Esther Neslen
Issue No. 2161

Melissa Leo as Ray

Melissa Leo as Ray

Ray’s husband has left just as Christmas approaches, taking the down-payment on their new house with him.

She’s left in a trailer in the icy north of New York state, with two children and a badly paid job.

She meets Lila, a Mohawk woman also living on the edge.

They get off to a bad start – Ray shoots Lila’s door. But Lila draws her into a plan to smuggle illegal immigrants across the frozen river that marks the Canadian border.

My heart was in my mouth when they first drove out on the ice, pushed by the incredible stresses in their lives.

They know they can make money fast, so they’re taking all the weight of their hopes out there with them.

The film’s real strength is its unflinching view of people living at the bottom of the economic pile.

Everything about Ray’s life is a humiliating struggle. She lies and bargains with everyone for what her family needs.

She comes across as resilient, always trying to do the right thing.

It’s true she brings her racial prejudice with her, but it does not affect her attitude to trafficking.

Lila and Ray are amazed that people will pay to enter America. They can’t understand why anyone would want to be where they are.

The heart of the film is the trust that grows between the two women. The subtle development of their relationship is beautifully brought out by actors Melissa Leo and Misty Upham.

Frozen River is powerful and unusually honest, full of suspense and ideas. It focuses on people whose lives are usually ignored.

Frozen River
Director: Courtney Hunt

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Article information

Tue 21 Jul 2009, 18:32 BST
Issue No. 2161
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