The privilege of having “winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance” attached to your indie film undeniably makes it easier to nab distribution, and may even put more asses in seats. But look over the titles that have walked away with the event’s top honor, and mediocrity seems to reign supreme. There are exceptions—You Can Count on Me, which shared the prize in 2000—but for the few of us who remember Three Seasons, Quinceañera or Padre Nuestro (a.k.a. Sangre de Mi Sangre), the message is clear: In Park City, bland triumphs over bold. Far be it from us to make Courtney Hunt’s debut pay for past celebrity juries’ sins, but after sitting through this year’s competition champion, it’s even harder to argue the award’s merit. A few more flavorless picks like this, and the best-of-fest accolade will be permanently synonymous with chirping crickets.
We can tell that Ray (Leo) has a hard-knock life when we meet her, crying in her faded pink robe. Ray’s job at the five-and-dime isn’t paying the bills, and her husband has gambled away their down payment on a double-wide. So naturally, the chance to make some scratch by helping a local Mohawk (Upham) smuggle illegal aliens across the Canadian border looks like a way out. That Hunt’s thriller can’t sustain tension suggests she still needs a few more films under her belt; the fact that Frozen River says the minimum about working-class life (it’s hard) or modern Native Americans (they’ve been screwed) is less forgivable. The waters are indeed still here. They’re regrettably not that deep.
Cast and crew
Mark Boone Junior