Dir: Debra Granik
Winter’s Bone is only the second feature film from unknown director Debra Granik and, adapted from Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel, one of this years biggest indie hits. As the Oscar buzz starts this will prove to be one of the years biggest cross-over films and it deserves all the praise it gets.
What is essentially a very simple story; a girl looking for her father, who has put the family house down as bail collateral, so she can save her family, is told through moving performances and sharp dialogue. Of course nothing is as simple as it seems and Winter’s Bone is thrown into complications by the fact that her father cooks crystal meth and the only way that Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) can track him down is through the local drug dealing community. Let the difficulty ensue.
The film is set against the stark harsh background of the Ozark Mountains and while everything in the community appears to be dead, on the cusp of dying, or deeply impoverished, it is staggeringly beautiful to see. Obviously as a reflection of this landscape the people that inhabit it are all depraved in their own twisted way, with the only exceptions to this being Ree Dolly and her younger siblings and to some extent Teardrop (John Hawkes.)
The main performances by both Lawrence and Hawkes are deeply moving. John Hawkes is a highly underrated actor in my opinion who clearly chooses projects he believes in and this shines through in his performances. Here he plays Teardrop a man seemingly full of hate towards his brother and his family, but as the plot unfolds we see much more understated emotions unearthed and brought to centre stage. In her performance of 17 year old Ree Dolly Lawrence is unflinching. In an emotionally disturbing scene we see her brought to tears as she holds her fathers dead hands while they are cut off with a chainsaw, this is definitely Oscar worthy and it would be a serious oversight if she wasn’t at the very least nominated. As the only ‘adult’ of her family and the only person with a slight sense of ambition in her community Ree is frustratingly forced to deal with everything her own ill mother is unable to.
It’s hard to know what to describe this film as, it’s unlike anything I can think off. The characters are basically that of a gangster film and it centres around drugs, yet this is not like any gangster film I’ve ever seen. It could be seen as a thriller, but then it doesn’t have any shocking moments of revelation. Drama is probably the closest thing, but then I don’t really like the term, because surely all films are dramatic in some way? and if they aren’t then they should be. Winter’s Bone is quite unique in the way it works. The story unfolds as if in real time and nothing is milked for effect, the film is as natural as the season and people it depicts.
The only unnatural thing here appears to be the relationship of the characters. It comes across that everyone we meet is a bastard and that everybody Ree meets hates her, but then that’s not surprising since she’s prying into things she ought not to be prying into. If everybody hates each other though it seems strange that they are all somehow distantly related and the terms of endearment they use to speak to each other, the most common I can remember being “baby girl” or “girly” are sometimes distracting. Maybe it’s a local thing. It does seem like the worst area you could ever visit. It looks like The Road would if everyone that survived had stayed normal and not turned cannibalistic.
Winter’s Bone isn’t a perfect film, most aren’t, but it’s probably one of the most perfect films this year.