FROZEN RIVER (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 21, 2009 by  

A heartbreaking, touching and gripping film! Amazing performances by Melissa Leo and Misty Upham with a storyline that was well-written. This film is deserving for every award it has won.  It’s that good!

Images courtesy of © 2008 Frozen River, LLC. All Rights Reserved.



DURATION: 97 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English Dolby True HD 5.1, English, English SDH and French subtitles.

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (for some language)

Release Date: February 10, 2009

Written and Directed by Courtney Hunt

Produced by Heather Rae and Chip Hourhan

Executive Produced by Charles S. Cohen and Donald A. Harwood

Produced by Anna Mcroberts and Robert Vince

Director of Photography: Kamal Derkaoui, CSC

Music by Peter Golub and Shahzad Ismaily

Additional Music by Keri Latimer

Editor: Kate Williams

Director of Photography: Reed Dawson Morano

Co-Producer: Molly Conners

Co-Executive Producers: Jay B. Itkowitz

Costume Designer: Abby O’Sullivan

Production Designer: Inbal Weinberg


Melissa Leo  as Ray Eddy

Misty Upham as Lila

Michael O’Keefe as Trooper Finnerty

Mark Boone Junior as Jacques Bruno

Charlie McDermott as T.J.

James Reilly as Ricky

Dylan Carusona as Jimmy

Jay Klaitz as Guy Versailles

Michael Sky as Billy Three Rivers

John Canoe as Bernie Littlewolf

Life in Massena is as harsh and barren as the frigid landscape. In this bleak terrain, two hardened single mothers are trying to make lives for their children. Lila is a widowed Mohawk whose mother-in-law “stole” her newborn son a year ago. Ray is a mother of two whose gambling-addicted husband just left town with the down payment for their new trailer home. Faced with little opportunity to make ends meet, Ray and Lila embark on an illegal venture transporting immigrants into the U.S. across Mohawk territory. With the money for the down payment within Ray’s grasp, the women are determined to make one last run. When circumstances spiral out of control, the two women must make life or death decisions based on their friendship and love for their children.

Emotionally gripping!  A fantastic performance by Melissa Leo for the film FROZEN RIVER” which has won numerous awards, each award is deserved because this film is simply well-acted and well-done.

The film revolves around the character Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), a mother of a teenager and young boy.  Her husband left the house a week before Christmas and no one knows if he left to gamble or get drunk but you start to learn that the family is struggling financially.  Ray is expecting her trailer home  that she put a deposit on to be delivered but with times quite tough and a payment of several thousand needed, her husband hasn’t given her any money, nor does she have the cash on hand to get the house.   She has only until Christmas to pay for the trailer home or else, she loses her $1,500 deposit.

Her teenager T.J. (Charlie McDermott) wants to help the family out and work but Ray is adamant that he stays in school and watches over his younger brother Ricky (James Reilly).

While she drives off to the local Indian Bingo Palace to find her husband, she finds her husband’s car but no husband.  Next thing you know, someone drives off with her husband’s car and Ray goes on pursuit.

She drives far into Mohawk territory and she encounters Lila.  A woman who says she saw the keys in the car and took it.  Ray can’t believe that she stole her car and tries to use a rope to bring it back home but to no avail.

Lila then tells Ray that she can make a quick $2,000 if she sold her car.  Ray with a gun in hand decides to listen to her and next thing you know they head somewhere in the reservation to pick up two Chinese men who are put into her trunk, Lila receives payment of $1,200.  Then they deliver the two men to a local hotel and she receives another payment of $1,200…the money is coming from smuggling illegal immigrants using Mohawk territory to transfer these illegal immigrants from Canada to the US.  Ray doesn’t like what she’s doing and Lila who wants the car end up fighting and the two go on their separate ways.

Meanwhile, we see Lila on top of a tree looking inside the windows of a house of a woman and a baby.  You learn that Lila had a baby but the father was killed in an accident and her mother-in-law took her baby.  So, she has been saving up for him and leaves the money she makes in a potato chip container and leaves it in front of the door of that house.

Going back to Ray’s situation.   We see how tough life is for Ray and her family.  They are only surviving on popcorn and Tang, the “Rent-to-Own” place wants their payment and at her job, they won’t make her a full-time employee.  Ray knows that she needs more money to take care of her family and wants to collect the money she deserves from helping Lila smuggling the illegal aliens to the US.

She then decides that in order to make money to pay the bills and get her trailer home for her children, she needs to work with Lila and smuggle more illegal immigrants to the US.  But circumstances start to change when Ray wants to make one last run for more money.


I’m not entirely sure what the budget was for this film but it obviously is an Indie film that was recognized in the film festival circuit, you’re not going to get a multi-million dollar video presentation.  Video is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1).  The video quality is very good during light conditions, especially during the outdoor segments.  But once you start getting indoors, you will see noticeable grain.   To be the truthful, the natural way the film is presented helps the storyline’s presentation and its believability.

The place is covered with snow and the main places where a lot of the film is shot is inside the trailer, inside a car and when you see the car drive through the snow during the day, early evening or late at night.  So, I was not expecting eye popping visuals but the Blu-ray video does enhance scenes such as the snow and the scenery in which the women have to go through a terrain but nothing but snow in order to accomplish their job.

The audio is dialogue driven and is presented in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  There was not need for any special effects and because of the locations, I wasn’t expecting to hear any major uses of sound but the dialogue and the dialogue is quite clear and understandable.


The main special feature for “FROZEN RIVER” is a audio commentary by Director Courtney Hunt and Producer Heather Rae.   The women discuss a lot about the film, the people they cast for the film, the performances of the characters and the music used in the film.  As well as discussion of the certain props that were used in the film.  There is quite a bit of pausing as both women are watching the film and seem to be engrossed in the overall storyline as well.

I wish there was commentary with the talent or even a featurette with some behind-the-scenes filming of “Frozen River”.

“FROZEN RIVER” is one of those films that one never expects to be created.  A storyline about a Caucasian woman and an Indian woman in dire circumstances and the only thing keeping them going is their love for their children.  Courtney Hunt did an extremely well-job in writing this story and then carrying it out on film as the director.

Two important things that she manages to accomplish quite well is creating two characters that are genuine trying to survive but also realistically hiring actors that make the film seem natural.  Not Hollywood.  It’s a glimpse into a world that we just do not see on film.

But to watch two women from two different worlds and foregoing whatever they may think of each other or whichever prejudices they have and establish that working relationship and eventually a friendship because mutually they need each other in order for their children to be taken care of.  I found this chemistry between the two actresses powerful and how they were portrayed in a variety of emotional situations was well-done.

I really have to applaud Courtney Hunt for doing her research and writing a touching, heartbreaking and yet gripping storyline and translating it well for film!  And Melissa Leo for her portrayal of a mother who has nothing left and she no choice but to use her last resort and Misty Upham for also making the film seem natural and real.

As for the Blu-ray, the presentation at 1080p High Definition and English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is probably the best audio and video presentation that one will ever see of this film.  If anything, I wish there were more special features outside of the commentary but overall, for the film itself, knowing that “FROZEN RIVER” has been an award winner and has been received so well by critics, it was definitely a pleasure to finally watch this film.

It’s strength lies within the acting of the talent in the film not just by the main two actresses but even the children of Ray and everyone involved.  Everything seemed natural, not contrived or a Hollywood production.  It was a film that was well-written with great casting.

“FROZEN RIVER” is definitely a film worth watching!

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