Stars: 5 of 5.
Notable cast or crew: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Mark Boone Junior (DIE HARD 2, BATMAN BEGINS, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN- here he's fucking terrifying as the nefarious Canadian, Jacques Bruno).
Awards: Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Bronze Horse at Stockholm, Women in Cinema Award at Seattle, SIGNIS Award at San Sebastien, Audience Award at Provincetown, Best First Film at NYFCC, Best Debut from the National Board of Review, Critics Award at Hamburg, FIPRESCI Prize at Geneva, and that's not even touching the nominations and awards won by Melissa Leo for her performance.
I expected to strongly dislike FROZEN RIVER. People were tossing around words like "minimalist," "bleak," and "freeform narrative." Now I'm not opposed to words like those being attached to a film by, say, Antonioni, but when up-and-comer hotshots like, I don't know, Carlos "Butt-horn" Reygadas, think they can do that stuff well, I start to get pissed off. Well, this is not a minimalist film. Just because it follows marginalized characters and features desolate landscapes does not mean it is minimalist. This has more in common with an action film than it does a minimalist one. We could call this NO COUNTRY FOR OLD WOMEN. THELMA AND LOUISE disintegrated by poverty's meat grinder and reassembled by STROZEK. This is everything SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE wanted to be, but couldn't, because every impoverished kid depicted in SLUMDOG could pop on a polo shirt and appear in a K-mart ad. The people in FROZEN RIVER can't even get a JOB at K-mart. They can't even get a full forty hours at the Yankee Dollar. They salivate at the chance to lick up the scraps, the foulest excrements of the American Dream. A double wide manufactured home?! Damn. Crime suddenly doesn't seem like such a bad idea. An intense, thrilling work of existential dread that documents the difficult choices faced by society's fringe dwellers even as, offscreen, their numbers grow every day. The only weak links are the child actors, and even they are fairly serviceable. The perfect antidote to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Five stars.