Monday, 9 November 2009

DVD Review: 'Frozen River'

Tired of spandexed superheroes hitting seven shades of CGI out of each other? Bored with boy wizards and moody vampires mooching about your cinema screen? Slightly fed up with outsized robots demolishing one another? Yep, me too. Allow Stuff to offer you a 93-minute cinematic penacea to your celluloid ennui in the form of 'Frozen River', an absolute gem of a movie without an explosion to its name and a film which, whilst being set in the snowy wastes of upper state New York, will bring a rosy glow to your heart and remind you just what it was about cinema you fell in love with in the first place.

Ray Eedy (Melissa Leo)lives with her two kids in a ramshackle static home on the icy plains of the Canadian/New York state border near a Mohawk Indian reservation. She earns a pittance working at a local hardware store and what money she does earn is stolen by her errant husband who slopes off and gambles it all away. It's nearly Christmas and Ray is in danger of losing everything including the family's dreamed-of new luxury (well, compared to the one they currently live in) new static home. Desperate and at her wit's end Ray tries to track down her husband before he can blow all their hard-earned cash and she finds his car outside a tatty Bingo hall. Much to her surprise a chunky young Mohawk girl comes out and casually drives off in the car, having seen its owner leaving the vehicle behind and therefore assuming it was fair game. Ray follows the girl to her own grubby caravan home. This is Lila (Misty Upham, sister of Theydontlikeit...oh, please yourselves) a surly short-sighted girl with her own problems and a reputation as a people smuggler. Somehow Ray allows Lila to persuade her to use the trunk of her car as a means of smuggling Chinese immigrants across the unpatrolled border via a potentially-perilous drive across the frozen St Lawrence River. Ray and Lila strike up an uneasy alliance and the money their partnership brings in eases Ray's financial burden. As the New Year dawns Ray embarks on one final trip with Lila...a trip which will have devastating consequences for Ray.

This is a powerful, raw and yet ultimately heart-warming movie from first-time writer/director Courtney Hunt, a film which picked up a string of festival accolades and led to a well-deserved Oscar nod for star Melissa Leo who delivers a striking and compelling performance as Ray, a woman on the edge who'll do whatever she has to do to keep a roof over her family's heads. The stark, snowy, muddy backdrop gives the film a detached and rather stately otherworldliness and there are echoes of the classic 'Thelma and Louise' in the edgy story of two women bound together in adversity and yet never even considering giving up. Both women become tougher and more ruthless as they become more deeply embroiled in their illegality and there's a palpable edge-of-the-seat excitement and sense of dread as one particular trip sees Ray forced to dump one immigant couple's luggage out into the snow only to find, at journey's end, that they've thrown a living cargo out into sub-zero temperatures. The race against time to rescue the hold-all, at dead of night in the freezing cold, is stomach-churningly agonising.

'Frozen River' is a passionate and realistic film full of spot-on performances (apart from Leo and Upham there are great turns from Ray's two kids), beautifully crisp and cold cinematography and the lack of a substantial music score reminds us just how much modern cinema's insistence on big, bombastic background music can take us out of the fiction. If you're looking for a breather from action movies and clumsy American comedies, Stuff can't begin to recommend 'Frozen River' highly enough. Intelligent, thought-provoking and, above all, a real human story (for a change), 'Frozen River' is a film you'll cherish and remember far longer than the latest 'Transformers' or 'X-Men' effort. A clear contender for 'film of the year' as far as this blogger is concerned.

The DVD: The film looks gorgeous despite the fact it's not exactly the most colourful movie you'll ever see, the charactersd being uniformly drab and unglamourous. But DVD brings out the pinpoint clarity of the film's snowy locales and whillt the disc isn't exactly bulging with extras - there are fairly substantial interviews the star and the director - this is a disc that's about the film far more than the frills. An essential purchase for lovers of quality movies.

Coming soon to Stuff: Moon on DVD, Braveheart on Blu-Ray, ITV's fabulous five-night drama 'Collision', 'Sarah Jane' update, 'Waters of Mars' reviewed, 2010, the new CD from Robbie "The Robster" Williams and much more...

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