Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Frozen River (2008) ****

R, 97 min.
Director/Writer: Courtney Hunt
Starring: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Michael O’Keefe, Mark Boone Junior

My wife and I have become fans of the television sitcom “The Middle”, because we’re a family in the Midwest, and that’s what the show is about. It’s pretty darned accurate in its depiction, too. One of our favorite characters is the family’s oldest son, Axl, who embodies all the worst behaviors of a teenaged boy. We fear our middle boy is a little too much like Axl for our tastes and might become our living nightmare in his teenage years.

I first saw Charlie McDermott, the actor who plays Axl, as a very different teenaged son in the movie “Frozen River”. This movie is about as far from “The Middle” as you can get. The movie takes place on the New York State and Canada border in the dead of winter. It involves a mother of two whose husband steels all their money and disappears a week before Christmas, leaving the family with several financial commitments for which they are ill prepared. The mother meets a Mohawk woman who smuggles refugees across the border using the frozen river to avoid authorities.

The movie is about these two women and has garnered great praise for the work of the actresses who play them, Melissa Leo and Misty Upham. They deserve all that’s been said about their performances, but since watching McDermott in “The Middle”, his performance in “Frozen River” has impressed me even more. He’s still a typical teenaged boy in this movie, but he comes from a completely different perspective than Axl. Axl has been given anything he ever needed and many things he simply wants. The adolescent in “Frozen River” has seen his mother struggle and has had to chip in raising his little brother. They eat popcorn for dinner some nights because they can’t afford to buy more groceries. He’s the definition of a boy that is forced to become a man before his time.

It’s those observational details that make “Frozen River” such an intriguing film. It has an original set up and the plot goes in a direction on a subject matter that is unique, but without it’s incredible focus on character and the life situations that shaped them and continue to form them, it would be just another film. “Frozen River” is a great example of the collaborative nature of film. It comes from a writer/director with great vision and inspiration, but it requires the right actors in the roles to fully realize them.

No comments: