Winter’s Bone (2010) 4.43/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 73.8
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Duration: 100 mins
Director: Debra Granik
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt

Daniel Woodrell’s novel is given a pared down but respectful treatment in this assured adaptation and surprise 2010 hit. Jennifer Lawrence puts in a “star is born” performance as Ree, a self-sufficient 17 year old from an impoverished mountain family and surrogate mother to her younger siblings in the absence of her criminal father and her mentally ill mother. Having grown up in a culture of lawlessness, she tries to keep her brother and sister away from the local business of meth production but supporting them with no means of income isn’t easy. Things hit breaking point when her father puts up their home as collateral for his bail bond only to go missing on his release. This forces Ree to track him down if she is to keep a roof over her family’s head. However, every where she looks, she is met with resistance and outright malice as she’s warned away in increasingly severe fashion. Only her locally feared uncle (John Hawkes) seems willing to help, if reluctantly so in the beginning.

Set in the back end of the Ozarc mountains, Winter’s Bone takes us into a world that movies don’t visit too often and such is the attention to detail that, despite the obviously rich dramatisation, Winter’s Bone at least feels very authentic. As such, writer-director Debra Granik is able to, quite sneakily, make the experience of that world as central to the movie as the plot is. She allows the film to rest on those moments that distinguish the characters’ way of life from their socialising and their dialogue even to the manner in which they get their food. There’s no doubt that this makes for a more engaging film but at times, she and her co-writer Anne Rosellini go too far with the regional dialogue. Making it centre stage and stretching its use beyond that which seems probable eventually takes too much attention away from the plot and the film can lose momentum from time to time. Her direction shows greater sturdiness making maximum use of a minimal budget by utilising the bleak landscape of wintertime Missouri to enhance the coldness of the script and frame the entire film with a desolation and wildness. The sense of outsiderness in Ree’s community is thus accentuated as, more and more, we get the feeling that these people have been, at best, living in parallel with the rest of the 21st century.

This is a dark portrayal of a way of life so palpable and so fraught with foreboding that it feels more like a thriller than a drama. But a drama it is for the essence of the story is Ree’s strength of purpose. Refusing to feel sorry for her predicament, she soldiers through the film driven by an unwilting desire to do what her family need her to do. It could make for a rather plain performance in the wrong hands but so dexterous is Lawrence that she’s able to reveal enough nuances as she goes to give Ree’s focused pursuit some genuine texture.

The edge to this film is provided by its support cast with Hawkes showing yet again why he’s one of America’s most underrated actors in an intense but well judged turn as the vicious but ultimately caring uncle. Dale Dickey is similarly impressive as the battle axe matron of a powerful local family and while her character’s actions get a little silly towards the end, she helps substantially in painting the film’s more menacing tones. Winter’s Bone isn’t the easiest watch given its no holes barred storyline and bleak direction but it’s deeply compelling and, regardless of its few missteps, it carries you right through to the end. It ran out a deserved winner of 2010’s Sundance Festival’s Grand Jury Prize and helped make the career of one of acting’s brightest talents but be warned, Walton’s Mountain it ain’t!

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