Courtney Hunt’s quietly electrifying debut Frozen River was everything cinema should be – thought provoking, risk-taking, strange and new, and extremely powerful. So why has it taken Hunt nearly a decade to get a second feature up on movie screens? Anchored by Melissa Leo’s Oscar nominated and totally blistering performance as a woman nearing her emotional breaking point, Frozen River subverts its genre roots (it’s a thriller but uniquely so), and by its conclusion, provides a strange tableau of hope amidst a grim and excessively cold background of despair. The plot revolves around the smuggling of illegal immigrants over the Canadian/NY border in Mohawk territory, with shades of Wages of Fear/ Sorcerer thrown in for good measure. What transpires is unpredictable, believable, and hugely cinematic, with every creative contributor nailing their role so that the entire piece feels tightly contained, economical, and exacting.
Co-starring Native American actress Misty Upham as the woman who brings Leo’s character into the smuggling ring, Frozen River takes it time mounting an intricate, intimate story that reflects upon the problems of these two women, who while coming from very different social circles, are very much alike. There is a distinct feeling of tension running throughout every scene of Frozen River; you never know what’s going to happen from moment to moment. Simple plot strokes become major developments, and Hunt’s expertly conceived original screenplay (which was Oscar nominated) never sags for a second, allowing all of its characters to come full circle, and for the plot to connect all of its dots in a richly satisfying way. The desolate cinematography by Reed Morano truly conveyed a bitterly cold landscape that sends a reflexive shiver down your spine. The ending packs a serious punch and it’s something you’ll want to discuss right away.