By James Rocchi,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Superb indie drama features great acting, smart script.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The film's entire plot revolves around a number of ethical questions: What are national borders? What makes the law? What does it say when a person can make more money breaking the law than they could in weeks of "honest" labor? What makes immigration "legal" or "Illegal," and what does it say that people are so desperate to come to the United States that they'll endure any hardship to get there? There are also discussions of the differences between "whites" and Native Americans. There's also depiction and discussion of gambling addiction.
Violence & Scariness
Threats are made with guns. Fighting and scuffling. Discussion of suicide bombing. An infant is, unknowingly, placed in mortal danger. A fire consumes a home. A blowtorch is brandished in anger.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Brief images of people stripped down to their underwear. Scantily-clad dancers in a strip club, fully-clothed, writhe.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Some profanity, including "bulls--t," "goddamn," multiple variatons on 'f--k," and more. Ethnic slurs and racial language, such as "Paki" and more.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
Some brands mentioned, including Hot Wheels, Pringles, and more.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Extensive smoking. Drinking of beer, wine, and alcohol depicted. Discussion of drug use, drug smuggling.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this film, which earned actress Melissa Leo an Oscar nomination for Best Actress as well as a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, is a serious, strong, and well-made drama loaded with topics worthy of serious discussion, as well as some harsh language. Parents also need to know that the film is not shy about depicting illegal activity and working-class poverty.
To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Where to Watch
Based on 3 parent reviews
Report this review
Good for mature children 10 and up
Report this review
What's the Story?
In an upstate New York border town, Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) waits on the delivery of her family's new double-wide trailer ... even though her gambling-addicted husband has taken the down payment without her knowledge or consent. Ray, tracking her husband, crosses paths with Lila (Misty Upham), a young Mohawk woman who tries to borrow, buy, and steal Ray's car; Lila's a smuggler, taking illegal immigrants across the frozen river from the Mohawk land on the Canadian side back to New York. Soon, the two women make an agreement and an alliance, each needing the other to earn much-needed money.
Is It Any Good?
FROZEN RIVER is somehow both a grim, gritty drama and a breath of fresh air. It's a little-seen Sundance independent film that earned Oscar nominations for actress Melissa Leo and for the screenplay by writer-director Courtney Hunt. While Frozen River revolves around the kind of moral, ethical, and financial questions rarely seen in film -- and does so through rich, real characters -- it also has a strong element of suspense and tension, mixing a socially-conscious drama with the tension and thrills of a crime film.
Leo's Oscar-nominated performance is excellent; Misty Upham, as her partner-in-crime, is also superb. Writer-director Hunt also makes her mark on the film, and her commentary on the DVD is a great discussion of the high-level ideas that lie under her script and the more direct concerns of the challenges in making her film with a minimal budget and rushed schedule. Frozen River is principled but never preachy, engaging but never anything less than superbly entertaining. If Leo's nomination means more people seek out and see Frozen River, then one good thing's already come out of the 2008 Oscars.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the complex circumstances and characters of the film. What drives Ray to become a human smuggler? What lies behind Lila's decision and actions? Families can also talk about the economic challenges faced by the lead characters -- why is it that this kind of real-world challenge is so infrequently seen in films? Finally, families can also talk about the privilege Ray has even as a poor working mother -- as Lila notes, the cops won't pull her over, "... 'cause you're white. ..."
- In theaters: August 1, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: February 10, 2008
- Cast: Melissa Leo, Michael O'Keefe, Misty Upham
- Director: Courtney Hunt
- Inclusion Information: Indigenous actors
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some language.
- Last updated: October 14, 2022
Inclusion information powered by
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Watch
Our Editors Recommend
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate