August 01, 2008

Raves for Frozen River

Wow. Frozen River is getting rave reviews, including some Best Actress talk for Melissa Leo. Check it out:

Review:  'Frozen River'

This intense indie drama of unlikely female partners involved in a smuggling operation on the Canadian border is a bracing character study.AS THE summer heats up, let "Frozen River" wash over you; let its bracing drama and the intensity of its acting restore your spirits as well as your faith in American independent film.

As those who have seen more than their share can testify, the all-purpose independent label guarantees only a modest budget and sometimes not even that. "Frozen River," however, is not only the deserved winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it also beautifully illustrates what the movement is supposed to be about.

Spare and unsentimental as well as intensely dramatic, character-based but grounded in reality and filled with involving incidents, "Frozen River's" account of two women who end up unlikely partners smuggling illegal immigrants over the Canadian border is very much the vision of writer-director Courtney Hunt, who told the story first as a short film before expanding it to feature length.

Hunt has not only created a powerful narrative, she also has cast the film with two exceptional actresses. The formidably gifted but perennially underutilized Melissa Leo finally gets to carry a film, and the relative newcomer Misty Upham has the skills to match up with her. Together, there is almost nothing they can't do.
'Frozen River':  Not a typical chatty chick flick

These women act upon their world.With the role of Lila, there is the additional element that the character is a portrait of contemporary Native American life rarely seen onscreen. According to Upham, she knew the role was a breakthrough even when filming the first, short version of "Frozen River."

"For the last 20 years, actresses who are native have been trying to get the break native men have already received," she said, "the roles where you can break out of the leathers and feathers. They go to the men and the women are stuck in the background.

"That's been the major fight, not only to get a leading role as a woman, but also to not be a Pocahontas-type talking to trees and whatnot, to have actual depth and character that adds to the movie. And this is the first time I've had a chance to play a character who actually has a personality, who has emotions and depth."
For Your Consideration:  Melissa Leo for Best Actress in Frozen RiverTA: The movie revolves around two great central performances--you and Misty. The acting avoids melodrama. Is that partially because Misty is so solid?

ML: Solid is a really good word for her. Misty, however, is a consummate actress. And not really very much like her Lila Littlewolf lead. There's a lot of gregarity in Misty, she's deeply, deeply wise I'll be walking somewhere with her and I'll go, "Misty, are you sure it's this way?" and she'll go "yeah, I'm sure" and, alright, I'm with Misty. She always knows where she's headed. She's remarkable.

TA: Has FR changed her career?

ML: That's waiting yet to see what happens with it. What Misty is acutely aware of and, I think is worth mentioning, is that there has never in the history of film been anything like her performance. Misty and her native community across the US are aware of it: she's not playing an Indian, she's playing a person with a complete life, with the ups and the downs of it, the wisdom and the mistakes, and a rounded person whose tale does not hinge on their being an Indian or not. It's an extraordinarily rare thing to have that kind of character in a film and I hope that she and the performance are celebrated and she can parlay it into other things. She has the talent to do it.
Comment:  I'll have to add Frozen River to my must-see list.

But the first Native actor to play a person, not an Indian? Hmm. The makers of Pow Wow Highway, Thunderheart, Dance Me Outside, Smoke Signals, Grand Avenue, Skins, The Business of Fancydancing, The Fast Runner, Edge of America, Christmas in the Clouds, Flags of Our Fathers, Four Sheets to the Wind, and Mile Post 398--to name a few alternatives--might disagree with that.

It's a bit ironic that Upham criticizes Pocahontas types since she contributed to the romanticizing of Pocahontas in a 2006 essay. Maybe she's had a change of heart.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

P.S. By "gregarity," I presume Leo means "gregariousness."


Anonymous said...

The word is out! Not only are we awaiting Misty's next great role -- what will it be? -- but opening weekend box office for Frozen River has an estimated $10,471 per screen average in just 7 theaters in NY and LA. In the per screen top ten, Frozen River ranked third -- behind the Mummy and ahead of The Dark Knight. That's counter-programming!

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Let's see, Graham Greene has been just a 'person' many times in films and TV, Wes Studi was a terrorist in DEEP RISING (1998), and writerfella played pilot, chef, chauffeur, butler, valet, trainer, bodyguard, and companion to a billionaire (Harry Hamlin) in BLUE SKIES AGAIN (1983). Those should count for something about other Natives just playing 'persons.'
All Best
Russ Bates