I didn’t like it the 1st time, I didn’t like it the 2nd time. Not bad, but not enjoyable either.
I must admit I dislike Melissa Leo the person, judging by the interviews I saw her giving. And this fact did influence my perspective on her performance. But I did realize that a difference should be made, so I’m willing to say that this is a good performance.
It’s a film filled with poverty and lives you would never wanna live. I don’t know if ‘white trash’ is the right expression, but that’s the type of character Ray Eddy is. But she’s also a good, positive character. Even if she does some bad things, we forgive her because we know she’s seeking the wellbeing of her children. She’s a good mother and, with her loser husband gone, some kind of an alpha female.
Melissa Leo’s look helps her become more believable as this character. I don’t mean beautiful or ugly, but the simplicity that she brings, the average mom (I feel like quoting Sarah Palin), the American struggling in difficult times. I approve the way she reads the lines, almost in a different way for everybody: she’s very firm with her teenage son, tries to be likeable in front of her employer, bitchy with her Mohawk accomplice and she’s very humble and nice with the border officer.
Ray’s most important goal is to raise money for that new house for her sons. That’s what gets her involved in illegal shit. Though tough with her son, their confrontation scene (the one with the almost burning of the house) provides a great acting moment for Melissa. She finally assumes the role of the bad parent, though meanwhile trying to justify to her son the decisions she had to make and reminding him yet again of the tough times his father put her through. It’s all teary and natural and Oscarish.
Melissa’s performance is one that would probably be classified as a real performance. And that’s because we deal with a real dramatic character that’s put through a lot of shit, there’s no glam to it (actually, it’s almost deglam) just hard real life situations and lots of close-ups to show the drama on the face (Melissa gets a plus for them).
What’s also nice about Melissa’s Ray Eddy is that she’s not the same during the entire film (and her mood changes are well supported by the story); about this, I liked a lot her devilish attitude of persuading the Mohawk girl to accept a final smuggling. It did show that Ray Eddy is willing to do anything for the safety of her kids. That scene also spells doom because we just know something will go wrong.
The drama of this simple woman is deeply felt here. We feel for her and although we want her to succeed, we do expect the worst to happen. In this badly shot, exhausting film, Melissa Leo manages to create a character that’s beyond the material. Her quiet moments of solitude are well played, she’s a real person and has the chops to also do the hard, shouting, Oscar baity scenes. A very good performance, that almost created a surprise on Oscar night. I give her .