FILM RATING: 3 stars
A very surprisingly good low-budget indie film that I recently watched after DVRing it on one of the premium movie channels is Frozen River (2008). It’s amazing to me how good this movie is for being made on less than a million dollars. The budget was somewhere between $500k and $1 Million according to writer/director Courtney Hunt whom I listened to on a Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcast (available for free through iTunes). It’s movies like this that give me hope as a filmmaker because you see how having a good story can trump millions and millions of dollars in “production value”. To me, this movie is as good as 2012 or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), both of which had 100-200 times the money. At the core of filmmaking is and always will be the story…and its emotional connection (or lack thereof) to the viewer. Frozen River works because of that.
The movie is about a middle-aged mother, played in flawed and wrinkled beauty by Melissa Leo, and her struggle to take care of her two sons. Her deadbeat husband has run off with the money they were saving as a down payment on a new double-wide trailer home, so she has to find a way to get some money by Christmas to keep the home. While looking for her deadbeat husband, she runs across a Native American woman, Lila Littlewolf, on the nearby Indian Reservation that straddles the Canadian border in New York. Apparently the husband was there playing Bingo and left his car behind. Lila stole the car because she needs it to smuggle illegal immigrants from Canada across the frozen river that runs through the Indian Reservation. Lila is also a mother trying to get enough money to get her son back so she can take care of him.
While this movie is pretty plain in its production value, it’s still filmed quite well. And what really shines is the story and the characters. I got pulled into this “everyday” story about these people and quickly was caught up in their lives. This is not a flashy movie by any means, but if you like character-driven dramatic movies like Crazy Heart (2009) and Fargo (1996), you might just find this movie to be your cup of tea.