"As the summer heats up, let "Frozen River"
wash over you; let its bracing drama and the intensity of its acting restore your spirits as well as your faith in American independent film.
As those who have seen more than their share can testify, the all-purpose independent label guarantees only a modest budget and sometimes not even that. "Frozen River," however, is not only the deserved winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it also beautifully illustrates what the movement is supposed to be about.
Spare and unsentimental as well as intensely dramatic, character-based but grounded in reality and filled with involving incidents, "Frozen River's" account of two women who end up unlikely partners smuggling illegal immigrants over the Canadian border is very much the vision of writer-director Courtney Hunt, who told the story first as a short film before expanding it to feature length.
"Frozen River's" virtues start with its unusual setting, the area around the town of Massena in upstate New York, just across the St. Lawrence River from Canada and also home to a Mohawk reservation that straddles the border. With Plattsburgh, N.Y. (on Lake Champlain), substituting for Massena, cinematographer Reed Morano uses digital video to make poetic use of bleak winter landscapes.
Director Hunt is just as adroit in creating the hardscrabble world its characters inhabit, an all-too-plausible universe of frustrated expectations and stunted existences, where lives are lived with a minimum of hope and an almost palpable sense of desperation. In a world like this, the worst could plausibly happen and nobody would even blink."
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Review: 'Frozen River'
(The Los Angeles Times 8/1)