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Frozen River 

First-time director and screenwriter Courtney Hunt’s somber, contemplative drama centers on Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), a struggling mom who works part-time at a dollar store and whose gambling-addicted husband has run off two days before Christmas with the money for their house payment. While searching for her husband, Ray meets Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a laconic young Mohawk woman who persuades Ray to help her smuggle Chinese and Pakistani illegals across the border in her car trunk. The danger of the enterprise provides some heart-racing drama as the women, driven to desperate measures by their love for their children, connive to elude the police. The film, which Hunt initially made as a short, presents a gritty portrait of lives lived at the margins and effectively dramatizes the cultural contrasts between Indians and whites, the peculiar intersections of tribal and state laws, the moral dimensions of immigration and the sacrifices inherent in motherly love. Leo (21 Grams, Law & Order) is almost painfully real as the tough-minded and less than fully sympathetic heroine, Ray. Although some of the plot developments are not quite plausible, the film is a serious-minded, deeply felt work by a promising talent. HHH1/2

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