The story takes place on the New York / Canadian border, or more specifically, in Mohawk Territory. Melissa Leo is Ray, a Caucasian woman whose husband has split with the family savings for a lost weekend gambling... maybe New Jersey, maybe elsewhere. She has two sons that are both a generation and a temperament apart, and is struggling to make the down payment on a new modular home that she desperately needs. In searching for her husband, she meets Lila Littlejohn, a Mohawk single mother played by Misty Upham. They immediately dislike each other (racism on both sides being just one reason why) - but their lives become intertwined in ways neither of them suspected, and they are almost fated to coexist... at least until Christmas Eve.
Hunt's first film is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers' Fargo, in that both deal ostensibly with large, scary topics (I won't reveal what Frozen River's is, except to say that it is a timely issue that I wish were fiction, at least where the story takes place), while truly being concerned with (frozen) small town America and the denizens therein. Like Fargo, Frozen River is a perfect film, with characters with whom we sympathize, warts and all. The acting is top notch yet subdued - Leo and Upham are phenomenal together, while Charlie McDermott is a discovery as Ray's son T.J.
Frozen River is worthy of a larger audience than it will unfortunately receive, which is why I consider it a duty to compel others to see it. I for one will cheer loudly if the film manages to deservingly sneak its way into the Oscar nods.