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Heroes of the Zeroes: Frozen River

by on April 24, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Frozen River”
Rated R

Ray Eddy’s mottled complexion represents hardship’s face, but her fragile, grimy fingers also are sliding off the ledge. She’s so upstate in New York there’s practically no air, a land where illegal immigrants enter under cover of night. For most, finding $5 in a pocket is an unexpected surprise. For Ray, it’s essential gas money to avoid getting fired.

In this winter wasteland, though, Ray’s gun and guts carry more currency, and 2008’s “Frozen River” offered a rivetingly characterized, toughly moral and culturally diverse look at poverty-level parenting.

Writer-director Courtney Hunt’s Oscar-nominated script created no contrivances, only compelling moments of desperation for Ray (Melissa Leo) and her sons, for whom life is a series of anticipations, letdowns and tradeoffs.

Forced to ferry immigrants across Canada’s border to keep her trailer, Ray gets a liberal dose of perspective. She still has her kids unlike Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a young Mohawk woman who becomes Ray’s unlikely partner in this hardscrabble nativity story.

Strong supporting work runs through this “River” — Upham’s reserved rage at being unable to see her child, Charlie McDermott as a teen who mistakenly believes he’s got adulthood’s attitude down and Michael O’Keefe as a cop who understands temptations toward wrongdoing even as he’s duty-bound to curb them.

But Leo’s Oscar-nominated performance as a mother not above illegal business, but resolutely clinging to honesty and not giving into hypocrisy, persists the most. For Ray, hope comes from hard sacrifice in a finale proving sometimes our possessions are our blessings.