AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Frozen River
Director: Courtney Hunt (Dir)
Release Date:   Aug 2008
Duration (in mins):  96-97
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Cast: Melissa Leo  (Ray Eddy)
  Misty Upham  (Lila Littlewolf)
  Charlie McDermott  (T.J. [Eddy])
 

Summary: Shortly before Christmas, in Massena, in upstate New York, Ray Eddy’s husband Troy, a compulsive gambler, runs off with the money they were saving to pay for a new, double-wide mobile home. The unsympathetic salesman, Guy Versailles, informs her that she will forfeit the $1,500 down payment if she cannot pay by Christmas. Although Ray’s part-time job at the Yankee One Dollar Store barely pays enough to feed their two sons, fifteen-year-old T.J. and five-year-old Ricky, she refuses to let the older boy, who resents her for Troy’s absence, quit school and work. While searching for Troy, Ray finds his car, a green Dodge Spirit, at the nearby Mohawk reservation bingo parlor with the keys in the ignition. As Ray argues with the ticket taker to let her look for Troy in the bingo room without paying the five dollar admission charge, an employee, Lila Littlewolf, steals the Spirit and drives away. Ray chases Lila onto the reservation to a small camper that Lila uses as her home. Believing that Troy is inside and that Lila is his girlfriend, Ray calls for him and shoots a hole in the bottom of the door. After throwing out the car keys, Lila says she saw Troy board a bus, then adds that she knows a smuggler who will pay two thousand dollars for the car, because of its button-release trunk. Tempted by the money, Ray allows Lila to direct her to the bank of the frozen St. Lawrence River, where Lila instructs her to drive across the ice to the Canadian side, explaining that both banks of the river are inside Mohawk territory. At the trailer of a Mohawk named Jimmy, they are given $1,200 as two illegal Chinese immigrants are placed in the trunk. Ray, outraged, orders them removed, but Lila, holding Ray’s gun, insists that she drive back. As they drive across the lake, Lila taunts her about Troy’s desertion, mentioning that her own husband, Jake, drowned during a smuggling run. In New York, Ray sees a state trooper observing them, but Lila assures her he will ignore them because Ray is “white.” After delivering their human cargo to a motel and receiving more money, Lila tries to take Troy's car by force, but Ray fights back, prompting Lila to flee into the woods with the money. When Ray returns home, T.J. is repairing an old playground merry-go-round he is hoping to sell. Ray scolds him for using the blow torch when she is not around, but the resentful T.J. says Troy gave it to him. He also informs her that their television set will be repossessed the next afternoon and that the only food in the house is popcorn and Tang. Meanwhile, Lila tries to buy a car, but her concerned brother-in-law Bernie, who disapproves of smuggling, has left orders for the salesman, a fellow Mohawk, not to sell her a car with a large trunk. That night, Lila climbs a tree outside the house of her mother-in-law, Evelyn, to look at her baby son, Little Jake. The next morning, Ray begs her callow young boss, Matt, to give her the full-time hours he promised two years ago. However, Matt, giving preferential treatment to the less dependable but younger employee, Pat, says he considers Ray an uncommitted “short-timer.” During her shift, Finnerty, the trooper she saw, makes a purchase. After work, Ray returns to Lila’s camper and demands half the money they made. Then, after Lila claims it is gone, Ray wants to make another run. While Lila grudgingly accompanies Ray across the river, she relates that her son was stolen from the hospital by Evelyn. On the other side of the river, Jimmy directs them to the gruff Jacques Bruno, who loads two Chinese men into the trunk. On the return trip, Lila says she was arrested once for smuggling and given a choice of three months’ jail time or a fine, which she paid and recovered in two nights of smuggling. At the motel, the nearsighted Lila has Ray count the money, which Ray keeps, claiming they are now “even.” Meanwhile, T.J. phones an elderly woman and tricks her into telling him her credit card number, which he hopes the repossession men will accept as payment for the TV. They refuse it, but Ray returns in time to pay them in cash. Later that evening, T.J. tells Ray that Ricky’s Christmas wish is a Hot Wheels Blast and Crash Track set, that has been advertised on television. Although Bernie finds Lila a job at the Tribal Council office, she quits midday because she cannot see the paperwork and, on Christmas Eve, longingly watches Evelyn and Little Jake in a restaurant. On Lila and Ray’s night run, Jimmy loads a Pakistani couple into the trunk, but Ray fears they are terrorists carrying explosives and leaves the woman’s large bag along the side of the road. Upon learning that the bag contained an infant, she returns to retrieve it. Because the baby appears to have frozen to death, Lila holds the lifeless little body against her. As they drive, Finnerty stops and tickets Ray for a burned out tail light, then asks about Lila, whom Ray claims is her babysitter. By the time they arrive at the motel, the baby is moving, which to Lila is a miracle. Meanwhile, T.J. arranges for a school acquaintance to buy and deliver the Hot Wheels set for Ricky, then tries to unfreeze water pipes with his blow torch, inadvertently starting a fire, which he extinguishes then disguises the smell by burning popcorn. On Christmas morning, Finnerty visits Ray, warning her that Lila is a smuggler. After he leaves, Ray sees the blackened corner of the trailer, and she and T.J. commence an argument that ends when T.J. bitterly admits that Troy robbed and abandoned them at Christmastime. Because the damage to the trailer intensifies Ray’s need to pay for the double-wide, she asks the now bespectacled Lila, who has quite smuggling, to go on one more trip. Jimmy directs them to a sleazy Montreal strip club where Bruno holds two frightened Chinese women. Paying them half of the fee, he threatens to hurt the immigrants if Ray refuses to take them. After they are in the trunk, Ray shoots at Bruno’s feet, forcing him to pay the full amount. Before Ray drives off, he shoots at Ray and alerts the Canadian police. Although the police have no jurisdiction to arrest on Mohawk land, they follow Ray and Lila across the ice, as Lila explains they are authorized to confiscate the money. When the ice breaks under the car, Lila, Ray and the Chinese women continue on foot and with Jimmy’s help, find sanctuary in the home of another Mohawk. Tribal policeman Billy Three Rivers reports to Bernie and a tribal elder, Rosalie, that the police want to set an example and have asked for Ray and the illegal aliens. Although Rosalie is willing to surrender Lila, too, Bernie stands up for her. However, soon after, he must inform Lila that the tribal council voted to expel her for five years and will give her to the police, if Ray does not surrender. Knowing that, in any case, she will lose Little Jake forever, Lila offers herself, so that Ray’s children will not be left without parents. Ray starts to leave, but then returns, reasoning that, she is white and has no criminal record, so the sentence will be short. She gives Lila all her money, instructing her to negotiate with Versailles, with Bernie’s help, to get a well-insulated, used single-wide trailer and live on the remaining money with the boys. After adding that there are baby clothes stored in her shed, Ray surrenders to Finnerty, who assures her the sentence will be short. Lila orders Evelyn to return her baby, and then settles into the trailer with the Eddy boys. The next morning, Billy Three Rivers has T.J. apologize to the old lady whose credit card number he stole, then drops the matter. Later, the younger boys have a ride on the merry-go-round T.J. has repaired, as a single-wide trailer is delivered. 

Distribution Company: Sony Pictures Classics
Production Company: Harwood Hunt Productions
Cohen Media Group
OffHollywood Pictures
Director: Courtney Hunt (Dir)
  Kevin Pazmino (1st asst dir)
  Vadim Epstein (2d asst dir)
Producer: Heather Rae (Prod)
  Chip Hourihan (Prod/Line prod)
  Charles S. Cohen (Exec prod)
  Donald A. Harwood (Exec prod)
  Jay B. Itkowitz (Co-exec prod)
  Molly Conners (Co-prod)
  Alfonso Trinidad (Assoc prod)
  Jenny Evans (Assoc prod)
  Laura Mehlhaff (Asst prod)
Writer: Courtney Hunt (Wrt)

Subject Major: Canadian-American border region
  Mohawk Indians
  St. Lawrence River
  Self-sacrifice
  Single parents
  Smuggling
 
Subject Minor: Adolescents
  Aliens, Illegal
  Arrests
  Automobile chases
  Automobile theft
  Bingo (Game)
  Brothers
  Canadians
  Children
  Chinese
  Christmas
  Debt
  Desertion (Marital)
  Fraud
  Infants
  Massena (NY)
  Mothers and sons
  Mothers-in-law
  Pakistanis
  Poverty
  Racism
  Trailers
  United States. Border Patrol
  Widows
  Winter

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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