Frozen River

DRAMA; 1hr 37min

STARRING: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham

Borderline personality: from left, Upham and Leo

Ray (Leo) is the downcast embodiment of desperate measures. Stony broke, with an absent addict husband and two sons to support, she stands to lose the house she has been saving for if she can’t come up with a chunk of cash. Trapped, she agrees to transport illegal Chinese and Pakistani immigrants from Canada into the US across an unpatrolled, iced-over stretch of the St Lawrence River.


In cahoots with a Mohawk woman (Upham as Lila) whom she initially neither likes nor trusts, Ray gets into the grim swing of loading strangers into the boot of her shabby Dodge Spirit at $2,400 a pop. As sidelines go, it’s pitiful, and writer-director Courtney Hunt spares no harsh detail — the poverty, the leached-out cold and the stubborn refusal to succumb that keeps everybody trying. This is the kind of raw material that great actors come alive for, and Leo owns her role from the revelatory opening shot. So beaten-down and defiant she seems constantly on the verge of panicked tears, Ray is a character you pray for as she fights for what should be hers while tunnelling further down.