Melissa Leo is a veteran actress best known for her work on "Homicide: Life on the Street" in the 1990s. Here she gives the film performance of her career as Ray, a mother of two boys who is desperately trying to survive after her husband has stolen their savings and run off to gamble. Ray’s dream of upgrading to a double-wide trailer home is dying quickly.There’s an uneasy alliance between the poor whites and the Native Americans who live on a Mohawk reservation near the U.S.-Canadian border. Misty Upham plays Lila, a young Indian who tells Ray there’s a way she can make some quick cash. It’s the film’s second great performance, grounded in such naturalism. These two women, Ray and Lila, start off literally killing each other before they partner up in the business of smuggling illegals across that frozen river. The alliance that develops and where it takes them is one of the most compelling storylines I’ve seen in any movie this year. What a beautiful job by first-time writer-director Courtney Hunt. She starts by giving us a finely crafted character study, and plunges into a tense thriller with echoes of films like "Fargo."
Few people saw "Frozen River" in theaters, but it deserves a long life on DVD and cable.