I can't recall whether the first shot of Frozen River is a wide shot of an actual frozen river or a tight closeup of actress Melissa Leo, inhaling nicotine outside a battered trailer... but both images are equally frosty and unforgiving. Combined in quick succession as they are, they neatly forecast both what's pedestrian and what's impressive about writer/director Courtney Hunt's debut feature which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The movie isn't always surprising and it's not visually expressive in the way one wishes cinema to be but it is unusually intimate and perceptive as a character study about women in the inclement climates of hard living.
Melissa Leo is really very good in the demanding lead role but I'm not sure how far her future rave reviews will take her (they're coming --just wait) on the road to a coveted Oscar nomination. It's a small film and she isn't famous enough to win huge points for that beloved "deglam" trick (she's far more attractive in person than she ever lets her character "Ray Eddy" be) but an Independent Spirit nomination seems very likely once awards season hits late in the year.
I had a chance to meet Melissa and the film's director recently and I've written about the film over @ the Tribeca Film Festival site. Enjoy.