Frozen River opens with a close-up of Melissa Leo’s face filling the screen and within a few seconds you can tell this is a woman on the verge of losing everything. It is an unforgiving shot; Leo looks haggard, wretched, a tear rolls down her cheek as she takes long drags from a cigarette. Although she looks like a woman who is at the end of a long traumatic journey, it is in fact just beginning.
Frozen River is set in upstate New York near a Mohawk Reservation. Melissa Leo plays Ray Eddy, a woman who is married to a compulsive gambler, and who is struggling to raise their two children. Ray’s husband has absconded with the money thay have saved to purchase a double wide trailer and the family are now on the bread line, with creditors knocking on their door every day.
While trying to find her husband before he gambles away their savings, Ray meets Lila Littlewolf, a resident of the nearby Reservation. The two women, both desperate for money, begin trafficking illegal immigrants from Canada into the United States across the frozen St. Lawrence River for $1200 each per crossing.
Although Frozen River was released in 2008, I hadn’t heard of it before spying it in Laser at the weekend and was drawn in by Quentin Tarantino’s gushing quote on the front cover. It is a remarkable film and Leo’s performance is very affecting, making the viewer empathise with her despair from the first few moments of the film. Leo was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance and it’s a shame she didn’t win.