Frozen River

Superb indie drama features great acting, smart script.
  • Review Date: February 16, 2009
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 97 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

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.


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.


Brief images of people stripped down to their underwear. Scantily-clad dancers in a strip club, fully-clothed, writhe.


Some profanity, including "bulls--t," "goddamn," multiple variatons on 'f--k," and more. Ethnic slurs and racial language, such as "Paki" and more.


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.

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.

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, a little-seen Sundance independent film that earned Oscar nominations for actress Melissa Leo and for the screenplay by writer-director Courtney Hunt, is somehow both a grim, gritty drama and a breath of fresh air. 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.

Families can talk 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. ..."

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 1, 2008
DVD release date:February 10, 2008
Cast:Melissa Leo, Michael O'Keefe, Misty Upham
Director:Courtney Hunt
Studio:Sony Pictures Classics
Run time:97 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some language.

This review of Frozen River was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 1, 8, 10, and 14 year old Written bythejokerspencil February 21, 2009
age 16+

Good Acting not much else

Parent Written byImjustsaying January 27, 2011
age 10+

Good for mature children 10 and up

I just watched this alone and it had no sex or drug use in it. The movie is intense because of the subject matter but that's it. It's a exciting movie to watch and you won't be bored. I think a mature 10 year old will be able to watch it and understand that these two women and smugglers and that it's a crime.
Teen, 13 years old Written bym1 June 30, 2009
age 12+

Excellent Directorial Debut

The film was smart and featured great performances. It was both gripping and frequently perceptive.
What other families should know
Too much swearing


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