The Plot of the Movie "Frozen River"

by David Harris

"Frozen River" is a drama released in 2008 by Sony Pictures Classics. Starring Melissa Leo ("Homicide," "The Fighter"), the film garnered good press, especially for its star's performance. It was written and directed by first-time director Courtney Hunt. The movie deals with two blue-collar women in upstate New York who begin an operation where they smuggle illegal immigrants from Canada to the United States.

Hard Times

"Frozen River" takes place in the North Country, a region of New York that borders on Canada near the Akwesasne St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. Ray Eddy (Leo) works at a discount store and is having a hard time making ends meet. Her gambler husband ran off with money she set aside for a mobile home and she barely has enough to raise her two young sons. Things change when she finds her husband's car driven by Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a Mohawk who works at a local bingo parlor.


Lila and Ray soon become friends. Motivated by economic desperation, the two women begin an immigrant smuggling operation where they bring immigrants in the trunk of the car across the frozen St. Lawrence River. However, this scheme is risky because border agents constantly look out for illegal immigrants. The pair also becomes concerned when they must smuggle in a Pakistani couple, concerned that they may be bringing materials for a bomb into the country.


Both women have major issues to deal with at home with their children. Lila's mother-in-law took her baby away when he was born and she hopes to reclaim him. Ray's older son T.J. also begins to cause problems. He wants to drop out of school and get job to help support the family but Ray wants him to finish school and take care of his little brother. As the law closes on the women, they also must work to keep their families from falling apart.


"Frozen River" opened to rave reviews, especially for Leo's performance, despite grossing only $2.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Ann Hornaday of "The Washington Post" said it was "made with uncommon skill and assurance" and Peter Bradshaw of the "Guardian" said, "Leo and Upham give performances of great conviction." Leo was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress and Hunt received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Hunt won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival for the film.

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