(Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 4/25/2009...
Thelma & Louise meet Dances with Wolves
*** This comment may contain spoilers ***
Here's another Indie with lofty aspirations as an art film. It's an original story: Ray (played by Melissa Leo), a mother of two children has just had her gambler husband run off with the down payment on a new trailer she was in the process of purchasing. She lives in upstate New York right near a Mohawk reservation. A Mohawk Indian woman (Lila) tries to steal her car and they end up becoming partners smuggling illegal aliens from Canada. Ray drives her car with Lila over the frozen river inside the Mohawk Reservation and picks up the illegal aliens on the other side of the border and then drives them back to New York.
Right away I had a hard time buying that the gambler husband would simply abandon his family. Okay, there are gambling addicts who do crazy things but it is established that he has a good relationship with his sons and wouldn't he at least be keeping in touch? Then there's Ray who doesn't seem to have any relationships outside of her interactions with her children. And when she does interact with her teenage son, they are always having very unpleasant, grating conversations throughout the film. Despite being a good mother and presumably someone who's never had interactions with criminals before (she tells Lila that she's never done anything criminal like smuggling before), it just so happens that she packs a gun and pulls it out right away the first time the two go on their smuggling run! Not believable. Also New York Police not being allowed to investigate a felony on tribal land doesn't sound right. And then there's the whole problem of Lila's explanation as to why the Elders took away her baby. She explains that the father of the child wanted the baby and they favored him after he shacked up with another woman. Why would the Tribal Elders take away her baby? It's never really explained.
The midpoint of a film is usually where the protagonist commits herself to her objective fully. The midpoint in Frozen River is when Ray and Lila pick up a Pakistani couple and are about to drive them back to New York. Unbelievably Ray has never heard of "Pakistan" but she's aware of the phenomena of suicide bombers. She takes a package that the woman is holding and puts it in the backseat. While driving at night over the river, it occurs to her that there might be something dangerous in the package (such as a bomb) and without really inspecting the package, throws it out of the car onto the frozen river. When she delivers the couple to a motel owner smuggler back in NY State, the two women discover that there was a baby in the package. So they retrace their route in the car, and Lila (who has trouble with her eyesight) somehow recalls the spot where they threw the package, recover the baby and return it to the grieving couple. The baby, who seemingly was dead since it was out in the cold, comes back to life after Lila warms the infant up in the car. Why a mother (even a scared illegal alien) would ever allow a stranger to take a baby away from her did not seem credible in the least nor did Ray's failure to really inspect the package.
The second act "crisis" involves Ray and Lila's last smuggling run where they transport two Chinese girls over the river. Before they put the girls in the trunk, Ray pulls out her gun once again and ends up in a shootout with a smuggler. Of course she's only wounded superficially in the ear. The car gets stuck in the slightly thawing ice and Ray, Lila and the two girls flee to the Mohawk reservation. At first, Ray wants Lila to take the rap and give herself up to the police. In a reversal, she sacrifices herself by surrendering to the police. With a sentimental flourish, she's told that she's only facing 4 months in jail for smuggling. Meanwhile, Lila 'takes back' her child from her husband's new wife (or girlfriend) and for some reason, the tribal elders (who had ruled against her earlier) now do nothing when she 'kidnaps' her child. Lila (at the behest of Ray) arrives at the trailer and will take care of Ray's kids for the four months she's locked up. Oh by the way, Lila's eyesight is restored when she gets a pair of eyeglasses. And what about when Ray's teenage son almost burns down the trailer while using a blow torch to deice frozen water pipes? While it appears that a small section of the trailer is damaged from the small fire set by the teenager, the trailer itself does not appear to be structurally damaged. But Ray proclaims that the trailer is 'ruined' and that's why she's now desperate to make one last run to obtain the cash to make the down payment on the new trailer.
All the principals here must must have 'hearts of gold', including the teenage son--he's guilty of committing credit card fraud by victimizing elderly people on the Mohawk reservation and finds some measure of redemption after being forced by the tribal elders to apologize to one of his elderly victims. While Lila has a grudge against the 'white man' and rationalizes her smuggling as payback for mistreatment of her people, she's really not a bad person at all. And similarly, Ray, who knows what she's doing is wrong, is also not a bad person (she only gets the four months of 'hard time'). All's well that end's well when the new trailer arrives just in time for the New Year (presumably purchased with ill-gotten gains). Frozen River would have been much more of an interesting film if the screenwriter decided not to endow her characters with those one-dimensional hearts of gold and serve up such an unbelievable story with a predictable and sentimental ending.
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