Melissa Leo is wasted in overpraised Frozen River.
FROZEN RIVER (Courtney Hunt). 97 minutes. Opens Friday (August 22). For venues and times, see film times. Rating: NN
Frozen River is another prizewinning Sundance drama that turns to dust in the light of day. Perhaps someday festival attendees will figure out that every movie seems revelatory after a spell of limited oxygen consumption.
It's another overpraised, undercooked study of a working-class American. Ray (Melissa Leo) pads her meagre income by smuggling undocumented migrants from Canada across Mohawk tribal land. (As a white woman, she's less likely to attract attention coming back over the border.)
Shooting everything in watery digital video, writer/director Courtney Hunt treats each small cultural observation like a policy paper, but all the serious, brooding close-ups can't disguise the cheap melodrama that drives her plot. Say what you will about Paul Haggis - at least the guy's never stooped to the Frozen Baby Trope.
Leo's been getting a lot of praise for her unsentimental performance, and she is, indeed, excellent. But she's always excellent. Anyone familiar with her sterling work on Homicide: Life On The Street or her brief appearance opposite Tommy Lee Jones in The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada could tell you she'd give a great performance in pretty much any role a director threw at her.
If Frozen River results in her being offered better and more prominent parts, I suppose the whole thing will have been worth it. But only just.