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By Scott Mendelson | February 10, 2009

The Film:
“Frozen River” is one of the best films of 2008… period. Whatever issues I have with the Oscars this year, all will be forgiven if Melissa Leo wins the Best Actress award. Here’s what I wrote about the film on my best-of-2008 wrap-up:

Melissa Leo, from “Homicide: Life on the Street”, finally gets a film role worthy of her talents. She and Misty Upam (no slouch herself) anchor a strikingly sparse, but brutally powerful film about the pain and stench of poverty and the desperation of the working poor. Leo stars as an impoverished mother of two, who turns to smuggling illegal aliens across the border in order to feed her family. The film works fine as a slow-paced thriller, but its core value is a stark depiction of a world all too hidden in modern America, where dinner consists of popcorn and tang, ambition consists of being promoted to full time at the Dollar Store, and families dream of living in double-wide trailers so they can be just a little warmer at night. It’s a dark, morality play set in a world where people have no bootstraps to pull themselves up by in the first place.

The Blu Ray disc:
The film is shot on HD video, so this is certainly not a reference disc in any capacity. But the high bit-rate, 1080p image is clean, bright, and heavily detailed.

I can’t speak for the surround aspects of the English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track (what’s the point in loud surround sound, when you have to keep the volume low-ish for a sleeping infant in the evening?), but the dialogue is always crisp and understandable. The feature has English SDH, English subtitles, and French subtitles.

Aside from the theatrical trailer, the only special feature is a feature-length commentary (with optional English subtitles) with writer/director Courtney Hunt and producer Heather Rae. While it’s unfortunate that star Melissa Leo is not a participant, this is still a rock-solid, information packed track. While there are occasional lulls, there is an emphasis on quality over quantity. They deal right off the bat with that silly ‘Leo is a diva’ story that broke last summer (basically, they had several conversations about specific character beats and/or choices). There are countless stories about trying to make this bare bones, guerrilla style production (under $1 million, shot in 24 days). If you liked the movie, this track is well worth listening to.

“Frozen River” is one of the very best dramas of 2008, and its two major Oscar nominations more than made up for the various snubs. The slim special features and the theoretical lack of repeat viewing (it’s not exactly a movie to be enjoyed over and over again) prevent me from recommending a purchase for the casual moviegoer. But it demands to be seen at least once.

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