I recently watched Courtney Hunt’s 2009 ‘Frozen River’ (nominated for two Academy Awards). I felt that it was such a thought-provoking watch that I should express just what I found so impressive about this film.
Examining the hardships of raising a family in poverty as a single mother, Frozen River is a raw reflection of a world often ignored by Hollywood. Left by her gambling-addict husband to support their two sons alone, Ray - being pushed to desperation – joins Mohawk reservation resident Lila and the pair engage in smuggling illegal immigrants to earn money.
The film’s style is so effective in its naturalistic approach that it feels like a documentary at points. I wouldn’t say that it fits into any specific genre label, despite exhibiting the sense of anticipation found in a thriller and the emotional elements to a drama. Hunt’s film could, however, be described as ‘socially realist’ (that is, to point up the everyday conditions of the working classes). The film has, though, been
described as belonging to the extension of social realism, ‘Neo-Neo Realism’ – the desire to ‘escape from escapism’ after world-shaping events such as World War Two and 9/11.
The film manages to explore social, feminist and racial concerns without entering into the realm of melodrama, cliché or self-pitying characters. The audience is not immediately encouraged to like the protagonists but does eventually align with both Ray and Lila as they grow as individuals and endure their struggling to get by.
Reviews including Stephen Holden’s in The New York Times argued that Frozen River had ‘no political axes to grind’. While this may be true, I did think that Hunt’s film was making a profound comment on the impossible situation for those on the edges of society and how that situation, although similar, can differ solely due to race. This is evidenced when Lila tells Ray troopers will not stop them because she is white.
Courtney Hunt said in an interview: ‘I just think if a story is good enough to compel people to watch it, then it’s a good movie.’ Frozen River certainly tells a good story – more than that, it is an important story. When up against the wall to keep a family going, people will do whatever it takes and yet, the reality of the struggles of the working class are far from popular, Hollywood material. Surprisingly gripping, Frozen River is more than worth a watch.