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Winter’s Bone (2010) ***1/2

June 20, 2010

 

written by: Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini and Daniel Woodrell (novel)

produced by: Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan

directed by: Debra Granik

rated R (for some drug material, language and violent content)

100 min.

U.S release date: June 11, 2010 (limited)

 

Two rare but welcome film-viewing experiences will occur when you watch “Winter’s Bone”, a haunting and bleak film with a glimmer of hope. The first experience is one of immersion, as we are transported deep into the mountain community of the Missouri Ozarks. It’s a raw and real look at a part of America that few realize exist. Where the term “cooking” has more to do with meth than it does frying potatotes in bacon grease (although we do see that as well). The second experience is discovering new talent and that would be newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, playing a teen protagonist that is weighed down with incredible responsibilities. It’s certainly not a touching coming-of-age story, more like a thrust-into-adulthood story but one that is mesmerizing nonetheless.

Based on a the 2006 novel by Daniel Woodrell, “Winter’s Bone” tells the story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a 17 year-old who finds herself in a jam when she’s forced to become head of her poverty-stricken family. It’s bad enough her catatonic mother is useless, leaving her to take care of her younger siblings. It doesn’t help that she hasn’t seen her father in a while, who cooks for the local dealer. Sheriff Baskin (Garrett Dillahunt, “The Road” & “No Country for Old Men”) informs her that he’s gone missing and if he doesn’t show for a scheduled court date, their home will be taken from them seeing as how he used the property as bond.  It’s hard enough for Ree to take care of her brother and sister but now she has to find her father before the law does or the other various unsavory characters around them. Ree tells the sheriff she’ll find him, not knowing where to start or what she might find. What unfolds is a harrowing, slow-burn of a mystery embedded deep amid the fills and trees that hide a variety of secrets.

Like any mystery where the odds are stacked against the protagonist, the more layers peeled, the more dangerous it gets. Ree has no choice but to begin her search by asking other family members for help. It’s immediately clear there’s no warm fuzzies being passed around in this family. The family tension is evident when her fathers only brother, Uncle “Teardrop” (John Hawkes, last seen on ABC’s Lost) warns her off, she knows he’s on a hard journey. She just can’t leave it alone though (as others warn her), after all, where will they go if they lose their home? Ree turns to another family member with a redneck mafia name, “Thump” (Ronnie Hall), and is turn threatened with violence for trying to talk him. It seems any family she runs into is just good for offering drugs, like when Teardrop’s wife tells her, “here’s a doobie for the road” as she sees her off.  When she doesn’t listen to them, things turn violent. Unless she has something for them, it matters not that Ree is family and we soon learn surviving life out here is more about keeping secrets than it is lending a hand.

 

 

Too often we wind up feeling sorry for a character despite their misdeeds, but with Ree we’re given someone who hasn’t done anything wrong. She’s just trying to provide for her family, because no one else will. She has only one friend her age, Grace (Lauren Sweetser) who comes into the story with her baby and never seems to leave. She’s not necessarily dead weight but hardly has much to offer in the area of help. She doesn’t have it easy either, having to practically plead with her husband to get Ree a ride. It seems anyone trying to do good is bound to hit a wall in this inbred hell.

In one of many hopeless situations, Ree turns to the Army to ease her desperation. She hopes to receive the $40,000 stipend by joining, but when she finds out that she won’t see that for months and it’ll take her away from her siblings, well it’s just another dead end. It shows how far she’s willing to go to meet the needs of her family. Despite many setbacks, she presses on where it seems like anyone else around her would give up. It’s unclear where she gets this indomitable will but we’re glad for it.

Lawrence is quite a wonder to behold here as she captures Ree’s well-placed anger, tenderness, love and fear. Regardless of any bravura, in the end what kind a 17 year-old really do in this environment. It’s not like Ree can up and move either since no one will help her, plus she’s too proud to ask as she schools her brother, “Don’t ask for what should be offered,” exemplifying a fine line between pride and dignity. Far from any opportunity of hope, she is surround by such dire straits it’s no wonder everyone has turned to some type of addiction. In fact addiction is as much a story device as the Ozarks is a character in this film.

 

 

RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. francesca permalink
    April 5, 2011 1:46 pm

    Wonderful film, beautifully written, filmed and acted. Harrowing and depressing and uplifting all at the same time. I love that films this classy still get made and get the attention they deserve. Shame though that this kind of success is always described as a ‘surprise’ – it shouldn’t be.

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