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Critic's pick: 'Frozen River'

February 05, 2009|Betsy Sharkey

There is nothing easy or comfortable about writer-director Courtney Hunt's first feature film, "Frozen River," whose cold trailer-park grit turned star Melissa Leo into a surprise lead actress Oscar nominee. Set around Christmastime on the icy New York-Quebec border, the story follows Leo's Ray Eddy as she struggles to patch together a life for herself and her two boys on the economic margins. Hunt strips the film of any sentimentality, opting instead for a close-up of the harsh existence for so many, with their minimum wages hard to come by and never enough. It is also a story of children forced to grow up too soon, caught between resentment and responsibility, with Charlie McDermott, as older brother T.J., particularly sad. Everyone at the center of "Frozen River" is standing on the edge of a chasm of despair; desperation, like dust, piles up in every corner; options are few and mostly bad. In the darkness, Hunt chooses instead of hope and redemption to go for reality, and that turns out to be a gift that is both brave and rare.

-- Betsy Sharkey

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