My current Top 5

My current Top 5

5/03/2010

Best Actress 2008: Melissa Leo in "Frozen River"

Melissa Leo received the first nomination of her career for her role as Ray Eddy – an overworked, stressed mother of two children whose husband left her and who has to deal with financial problems. To solve them, she starts to drive illegal immigrants over the boarder from Canada to the United States.

Frozen River is a grim tale of people who see no other choice for a better life than crime. It portrays an area where the American Dream doesn’t seem to exist and life is a constant struggle against poverty and downfall. The life of Ray Eddy is no exception.

The first time the viewer sees Leo’s Ray it becomes immediately clear that she is a woman with no illusions – a face that is worn-out and exhausted but also tough and strong. Her whole appearance shows a woman who has spent her whole life working and fighting to survive and never really got anything for her trouble. Right from the first moment on Melissa Leo makes clear that life has turned Ray into a bitter, pessimistic woman.

Besides her financial problems, Ray also has trouble in her personal life – her husband left her without a word. In front of her children, Ray holds her tough façade up, but in some silent moments, when Ray is alone, her masque-like face shows signs of desperation and pain. When Ray goes out to find her husband, Melissa Leo is able to show that she both can’t go on but knows that she has to. It seems that is a combination of obligation for her children and herself that keeps her going. Melissa Leo is very convincing in showing Ray’s desperation and most of all, her tiredness. She shows that Ray is trying everything to survive but a lot of energy has been used up in her life. She seems to have turned into a woman running on ‘auto-pilot’, doing everything she can but without any unrealistic dreams or hopes.

Despite her tough determination, Ray can’t find her husband but she finds is a woman who stole his car. This starts Ray’s strange relationship with this woman who is earning money by bringing illegal immigrants over the boarder from Canada and for whom Ray’s car is exactly what she needs.

Melissa Leo shows in the scenes with Lila, her new partner in crime, that Ray is a woman who keeps everyone at a distance and whose instincts for survivial make her seemingly mistrust everybody – she and Lila don’t share a friendship, they openly reject each other but the circumstances and necessities have brought them together. Melissa Leo never wastes any second in demonstrating that Ray has come to a point in her life where she doesn’t have another choice, where even thinking about another choice wouldn’t make any sense. She needs money, not to make life better, but to maintain life as it is. And she shows that Ray is a very no-nonsense character for whom getting money is the only importance in her life – so she tries to get it without asking questions.

Melissa Leo also works very well with Charlie McDermott who plays her oldest son. She perfectly shows in her scenes with him a constant struggle between love and frustration and her constant impatience makes the viewer feel how it is often the people the closest to someone that evoke the angriest reaction. Melissa Leo also demonstrates that being a good mother is the only goal Ray can hope of achieving and she tries her best to fulfil this by a combination of strict discipline and generous love. In the scenes that show Ray’s personal life and her job, Melissa Leo finds various different personalities for Ray as she can be respectful and charming opposite her supervisor but tough and unlikeable opposite most others.

In the scenes opposite Lila, Melissa Leo makes Ray a dominant and insecure character at the same time. Insecure because she doesn’t have Lila’s apparently indifferent attitude to the dangers of their crimes and dominant because she refuses to let Lila, the more experienced criminal, be the leader in their relationship – Ray knows what she is doing and what she wants for it.

Melissa Leo portrays Ray’s entry in the world of crime without any grand gestures or big emotions. Ray knows that she has to do it so she doesn’t waste any time in asking moral questions. It is never clear if Ray has a criminal past but it is clear that she is down-to-earth and knows about the possible consequences. But Melissa Leo also shows that with her new activity as a criminal, Ray seems to start to dream again of a better life and seems to be willing to forget those possible consequences – a police officer at her door surely frightens her but it doesn’t stop her.

Melissa Leo surely succeeds in showing Ray’s constant determination and toughness but unfortunately a lot of times, she seems not able to find anything else in her character than this bitterness. It would have been a much more interesting performance if she had been able to show some other layers besides this, some doubts or worries. Too often, her stone-faced performance prevents Ray from becoming a more layered character. Even when Ray learns about a terrible mistake in her judgment when she threw a bag out of the car, there doesn’t come any real emotional reaction from Melissa Leo. The interpretation of Ray as a hardened woman is surely consistent but stops the performance from becoming fully engaging. All this also makes the ending when Ray suddenly decides to scarify herself for a woman she had spent the whole movie disliking rather unbelievable. Melissa Leo focused so much on the hardened side of Ray that she overlooked all the other aspects that could have been explored in the character.

Overall, it’s an impressive performance that could have needed a deeper characterization that gets

2 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

Aw, I thought she was great!

Fritz said...

I know you really like her and when I started watching the movie,I always thought that she will probably be my pick because everybody loves her...but it left me a little bit underwhelmed.