The weight of water


IT’S TAKEN A while for Courtney Hunt’s debut feature to make it across the Atlantic, but, though the picture does have its rough edges, the wait has been worthwhile.

Set in the icy corner of New York State that rubs up against the Canadian border, Frozen Riverstars Melissa Leo (recipient of a deserved Oscar nomination) as a hard-working mother who, following another abandonment by her useless, gambling husband, drifts into the dangerous world of people smuggling. The script may strain the viewer’s credulity from time to time, but Leo throws such raw despair at the role that events are never less than enthralling.

The story kicks off with Leo tracing her husband’s stolen car to a nearby Mohawk reservation. She gets into a conversation with one of the Native American women and, through a series of near accidents, ends up assisting her in transporting undocumented aliens across the titular frozen river. Meanwhile, her teenage son – a decent kid, but a bit wayward – experiments with credit card fraud as he attempts to take care of a younger brother.

Frozen River, a major winner at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, creaks and shivers with authentic northern atmosphere. Swallowed beneath layers of quilted fabric, occasionally breaking into spontaneous tears, Leo bravely offers a face that appears to have been chiselled by sub-Arctic winds and regular sleet-storms.

Hunt manages to organise some tense set pieces, but the plotting of the film is a tad awry. Leo’s character embraces the outlaw life a little too readily, the denouement comes together too quickly, and one absurd incident involving an abandoned baby would not seem out of place in a Penny Dreadful.

Still, for all that, Frozen Riverexerts an undeniable grip. We shall keep our eyes on the promising Ms Hunt.