Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
With twists and turns, ‘Frozen River’ ultimately about family; one final book from NCR columnist

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 11, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

The new film Frozen River by Courtney Hunt begins with the haunting winter scenes of upstate New York along the St. Lawrence River. Two women from different backgrounds come together in effect to save their families.

The gambling-addicted husband of Ray Eddy has left his wife and two children, taking the money they had saved for an already-ordered new double-wide trailer. Ray Eddy is played with “no holds barred” by the wonderful Melissa Leo, formerly of television’s Homicide: Life on the Street.

Ray becomes desperate to find her husband’s missing car and a way to make the modest dream-home a reality for her two boys, 15-year-old T.J. (Charlie McDermott) and 5-year-old Ricky (James Reilly).

She finds her husband’s car, evidently stolen, in the possession of Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) who works at the bingo parlor on the Mohawk Reservation that straddles the Canadian and United States river border. Lila has had her child taken away from her by the parents of the father of her child.

Thus begins an “at arms length” relationship that leads to Ray’s involvement for cash to smuggle illegal immigrants in the trunk of her car driving across the frozen river.

Smuggling illegals is indeed risky business, but it also provides more money than Ray could ever make at her job at a local variety store. Ray has second thoughts when the illegals are from Pakistan. In this instance, there is a nail-biting subplot involving a second race across the river.

In the end, the film is about redemption. It is about race and tradition also. But above all, it is about family.

Early on I found the film difficult to watch because of the strong threat of overwhelming tragedy. But Frozen River is well worth the journey with two very different women facing basically the same crisis.

It is a film to see if only for Melissa Leo’s incredibly realistic job of acting. If she doesn’t receive a nomination for Best Acting Oscar, there is no justice in this world.

Frozen River is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America because of strong language and some violence. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-III – for Adults.

Book Review

Tim Unsworth, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter weekly newspaper, died on April 30 of this year. His new book, titled Tim Unsworth: Articles from the National Catholic Reporter came out soon after his death. It is published in softcover by ACTA Publications of Skokie, Ill., for $14.95.

Tim’s thought-provoking and humorous articles appeared in the NCR for 24 years, from 1982 until 2006. His articles would appeal to Catholics, if we can segment people, on the more moderate to liberal side.

Tim wrote of the foibles of a very wounded Church. But continually you could see his deep love for the Church. He came out of the social action model of the Chicago Church in the 1960s and ’70s. He could be tough on some bishops and chancery-types, but his empathy for parish priests and parishioners comes through time and time again.

One of his reflections goes like this:

“Recently I listened to a priest talking about Mary in Scripture. He was outstanding. In a world where so many talkers speak with their mouths and not with their hearts, it was a moving experience. All priests are ordained to speak from their hearts. That’s what makes them unique and terribly important.”

In an article published in 1988, Tim holds up the then-CEO of Sears, Ed Telling, for having a central authority that did not dictate. Sadly, the glory days of Sears are past and the example falls, as Sears has been taken over by K-Mart although the Sears name was kept. As they say at the installations of new popes: “Sic transit gloria mundi.”

The book is a delight to read. This is a book particularly for the Catholic on the older side who lived through the Vatican II Council. It refreshes and renews.

Play Review

On a recent visit to New York City as a substitute priest at the parish of St. Gregory the Great on 90th street west of Central Park, I had the opportunity to see the new play August: Osage County. Actor Tracy Letts is the playwright of this great Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago’s production of this year’s Pulitzer- and Tony-prize winner.

The three-act, over three-hour play with 13 actors is in the tradition of the classic plays of the 1940s and 1950s by such playwrights as Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams.

The Weston family of Pawhuska, Okla., is the modern dysfunctional family par excellence. Sometimes the language is blue and the story takes turns into dark family secrets that take your breath away. And yet there are lots of laughs admittedly sometimes on the cruel and sarcastic side.

In the production I saw late in July, the veteran actress Estelle Parsons, who is 84, played the dominating matriarch Violet Weston, who is in her late 60s. And she is totally convincing as a much younger woman. Violet is the firecracker center of the play. Her efforts to control and cause pain to her three adult daughters is mind-boggling. The daughters are played by the original Chicago cast, the incredible Amy Morton, Sally Murphy, and Mariann Mayberry.

Violet’s husband Beverly (Michael McGuire) has a memorable short role at the beginning of the play. This same role was originally played by the playwright’s own father Dennis Letts, who died earlier this year. Beverly disappears early on and evidently commits suicide at a nearby lake.

The second act, with its funeral dinner scene, is the highlight of the play. Amy Morton as daughter Barbara stands out with Estelle Parsons in an emotional bloodbath that will be long remembered. Is daughter Barbara the successor to the hated Violet?

In the third act, secrets continue to tumble out. No one can escape the webs of Violet’s spider-like venom. The only escape may be to leave. Yes, August: Osage County is melodrama and dark comedy. Yet with all of its histrionics it seems real enough to identify with.

I must admit for me personally being present at this production felt like being present for a moment of theater history. Broadway plays are outrageously expensive and unavailable to many people. This doesn’t justify their prices, but next year’s tickets to the New York baseball and football games are in the stratosphere.

The beauty of August: Osage County is that extraordinary writing has been combined with spot-perfect direction and acting as good as you will ever see.

While I was in New York, tickets were available for day of performance at the TKTS booth a block from the Music Box Theatre for about 20 percent off, which is still a very high $87. If you happen to be in New York in the next six months and can save up for the cost, I urge you to make August: Osage County one of the highlights of your trip.

The script version of the play is published by Theatre Communications Group of New York for $13.95.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, as well as a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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