Volume 78 / Number 11, August 13 - 19, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“Frozen River” (+)

Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) lives is a squalid home on the U.S.-Canadian border along the St. Lawrence River and the Mohawk Indian reservation that straddles both sides of the river. She lives with her two sons: 5-year-old Ricky (James Reilly) who appears to be a normal, loving child and 15-year-old T.J. (Charlie McDermott) who is becoming a thief using telephone scams. Ray’s husband, whom we never see, has just run off with the family’s savings. We learn than he is a gambling addict, and we can only imagine how his behavior has affected his wife and children.

While searching for her husband, Ray meets Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a Mohawk Indian living nearby. Although very suspicious of one another, Ray joins Lila in her illegal operation of smuggling Chinese and Pakistani people across the Canadian border into the U.S. To do so, they use Lila’s car to travel over the frozen river – hence the title of the film.

The adventures and misadventures of Ray and Lila make up most of the movie. Along the way we learn of the travails of poor whites and Indians living in the area and how they deal with and react to the afflictions of daily life. Ray is a woman of enormous pluck and true grit who demonstrates what millions of poor, single mothers do every day: provide love and strength to their families and do whatever they need to do to keep them from becoming destitute and collapsing. She reminded me of the biblical proverb describing a worthy woman: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.”

When the picture ended, enormous applause erupted as the cast names rolled by. I realized that many in the theater on that opening night may have either been in the film or were friends or family members of the cast, producer and director. The movie deliberately evokes a grungy and amateurish look, but it is truly a professional work that is worthy of your attendance. I saw it at the Angelika Film Center on Houston Street in Manhattan.

HS said: “I wasn’t that eager to see ‘Frozen River’ because, basically, I don’t like the cold. The Times review said it was about poor people and the misfortunes they suffer, which is not exactly a crowd pleaser. Yet the movie turned out to be surprisingly good, even though I worried a lot about people falling through the ice, an anxiety I picked up when I was in parks and responsible for lakes and ponds. The story is fascinating and the acting is first rate as far as I could tell. (I’m not a professional critic.) The movie helped make you understand other people’s problems, particularly poor whites and Native Americans, who are depicted with humanity and grace. See the movie, but bring a sweater.”

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