Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Anchored by a superb performance of barely suppressed impatience, insecurity, and rage by Academy Award-nominated Melissa Leo, Frozen River has all the hallmarks of a Sundance Festival favorite: self-enamored fatalism and desperate people in snow-covered terrain breaking the law. This story about a dollar store clerk who stumbles into the alien smuggling business when her shitbird husband abandons her and their two kids could use less pleading on their behalf, and more venality on the part of the lawbreakers. It wouldn't kill these filmmakers if selfishness motivated their characters -- if, say, Leo's heroine wanted the money to buy herself new shoes, dope, or a flat-screen TV instead of a "Hot Wheels" race track for her little boy (as it happens she doesn't buy the racetrack and isn't home for Christmas either, in case you're wondering). Still, Leo and Upham are ace together; the menace and desperation that Upham projects in their first car scene speaks to the futility of Congressional stimulus bills, not when these lives are in constant danger of spinning out of control. Writer-director Courtney Hunt gives aforementioned snow-covered wastes the Fargo-Sweet Hereafter treatment without the symbolism. I'll take this over Shotgun Stories in a minute.

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