Friday, August 29, 2008

Quadruple Feature Part Three: Frozen River

Frozen River
Directed by Courtney Hunt
Released August 1, 2008

This tiny indie is immediately reminiscent both in tone and in style to recent similarly snowy and similarly small efforts “Snow Cake” and “First Snow”, both great films. As with those two, “Frozen River” sneaks in quietly and unthreateningly before ultimately impressing and surpassing the expectations it creates for itself. It achieves a level of gripping suspense that impresses even Quentin Tarantino, whose enthusiastic one-line review is quoted on posters for the film. And it does all that without the slightest hint of sex, and very little off-color language or violence. That to me is the mark of an impressive film (not to say that a violent film filled with sex and cursing can’t be equally terrific, this is just all the more surprising). I guess there’s a reason it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The film really utilizes its scenery to its full effect, using few set pieces throughout its runtime but still managing to craft a compelling story which includes long scenes in cars. Melissa Leo, previously relegated to barely-noticed roles in movies like “21 Grams” and “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”, gets her chance to shine as the matriarch supporting a family with a bare-bones job and who must seek out an alternative form of employment. Regardless of what I’ve heard about Leo’s difficult personality, she does turn in an incredible performance which is consistently great throughout the film. Though her part doesn’t demand the same dedication, Misty Upham is also good as the woman whose life inadvertently collides with Leo’s and sets her off in a whole new direction. The film is rarely showy, but it is deeply effective and very much surprising. I can’t guarantee you’ll find it a theater near you, but it’s definitely worth a longer drive to the next big city over.


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