Friday, 8 October 2010

Winter's Bone - Review

First and foremost, apologies for the late review on this one. Seemingly I was the last film critic on this side of the Atlantic to see this film. Having won top prizes across the major festival circuits this year, it was finally time to see if Debra Granik's latest film measured up to all the post Sundance hype.

Based on the novel of the same name, by Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone tells the tale of 17 year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), struggling in the back-end of Americana nothingness - enough to make even Cormac McCarthy weep in despair - to raise her little brother and sister while her own mother is grievously ill through a mixture of catatonic depression and severe drug addiction. The sting in this story begins as young Ree sets off by herself to find their estranged father, on the run from the police and has ultimately disturbed the family's more 'colourful' neighbours.

I'm always adamant that cinema is at it's best when the film strips down the superficial visuals to their primal core and simply tells an interesting and provocative story. We had this last year with Let The Right One In and The White Ribbon. The same certainly applies for Winter's Bone, as the audience endures Ree's futile and desperate journey through the dregs of her community, which is certainly not for the faint hearted.

The breakout performance of Jennifer Lawrence is the most phenomenal revelation of the whole feature. If she fails to land an Oscar nomination off the back of this courageous and heartfelt demonstration of maturity then it is the Academy's problem and certainly nothing to do with this brilliant portrayal.

Lawrence's Ree captivated me greatly. Not just because she showed the audience her unrivalled strength on screen countless times. It was in those brief moments where she reminds us of her actual age and the genuinely horrifying scenarios she puts herself through for clear absolution, into the mystery surrounding her father's disappearance, is where the good performance becomes a great performance.

Equally the supporting turn from the ever-changing John Hawkes was a particularly intriguing one. Portrayed as a thoughtless drug addicted lay-about, his journey towards some kind of bittersweet redemption is one of the more touching aspects in an otherwise bleak feature.

Really I could sit here and praise everyone involved in this film, as the utterly horrifying and distinctive performances,from the neighbours this family unfortunately has the pleasure of sharing a road with deserve just as much accolades as the leads.

The beautifully eerie score from Dickon Hinchliffe added a glorious atmosphere to the film, in similar ways to last year's grossly under-rated - and similarly situated - Frozen River. Where it came into it's own however was with the more chilling folk tunes played throughout the film, be it in a bar, or in a character's home, or the tune which plays softly over the film's opening scene.

Final Thoughts
From this film alone, one suspects the film world will be seeing more of Ms Lawrence in the years to come. Winter's Bone is a dark and chilling human tale not for the faint hearted, with a closing scene which is bound to resonate with its audience for a long time after. An emotionally numbing, yet complete essential piece of American film-making. Don't be surprised to find it on my top 10 of the year come December...


See This If You Liked...
The Road & Frozen River

Winter's Bone is in selected cinemas across the UK now.


Matt Stechel said...

film reminded me of Narc of all things...especially the reveal of what happened to her father.

movie was well done and well told--but i kinda thought it was well overrated--but Hawkes is pretty badassed in it--a good friend of mine's favorite film is Me and You And Everyone We Know--and i had to phone her right after i got out of the theater just to tell her that Hawkes was in this one.

lorent said...

Great Movie!! I was raised in the Missouri Ozarks area where the film was set and filmed. This is the part of the US that loves Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh (who is from Missouri) and voted for GW Bush twice. I have to say that the film was amazingly "true to life" in every detail. I would also like to say that you don't have to be desperately hungry to hunt and eat squirrels either. It is considered very good food in the hills. I have eaten it many times and it is delicious when cooked correctly.

I have been dismayed reading many of these reviews calling it a "fake" and/or "phony" and contrived film. I do understand that the character of Ree Dolly certainly has many wonderful and admirable qualities that seem to have developed in a vacuum. Ree Dolly needs to be that sort of character for the rest of the film to work and not simply be a documentary of the endless poverty endured in the Ozarks for generation after generation. I grew up EXACTLY in that part of Missouri and Ree's character aside, it is EXACTLY correct in the look, the language and the behaviors there.

I would also like to address the meth epidemic that has raced across huge sections of the rural Midwest America. I was raised in the Ozarks from 1963 until 2009 and I watched the moonshiners lose out as Sunday Blue Laws and Dry County Laws were voted down or abandoned. Then marijuana became THE big cash crop that survived and thrived for many years until "Daddy" Bush's anti-marihuana laws poured in tons of money to local law enforcement and new laws confiscating lands forced the richer growers indoors. It was finally in the mid 1990s when you began to see meth force out ALL the remaining marihuana farmers and moonshiners. Counties began to get in meth dealing Sheriffs and the old games were OVER. In my Ozark County (Morgan) during the late 1990s a deputy sheriff's home mysteriously exploded and then was investigated by the FBI. I watched as the marijuana became hard to find and evil meth take over.

The people of the Ozarks have always been clannish, hostile to outsiders and proudfully ignorant and primitive in their opinions of society and politics. Those traits are nothing new or something that manifested due to meth. But the introduction of meth has struck down many good men and women who might have made the culture a tiny bit more tolerant or hopeful.

But along with the continuing devastation of multi generational poverty and vastly inferior schools there is also a great beauty in the land and the people of the region that you can see in a short movie shot in the Ozarks at;

or my longer version at:

Many an unbelievably gifted musician lived and died in those hills never having recognition from anyone outside of the hills.

I strongly urge everyone to watch this movie because it is VERY
truthful and realistic of how parts of the US survive. It also shows a part of America that is VERY often overlooked because many are (rightfully) ashamed that this sort of 3rd world poverty exits in the US. I personally feel that the Federal US government needs to inject a LOT more funding and OVERSITE of the rural school districts in order to overcome the generations of prideful ignorance that governs the mindset of many born into that rural America culture.

Andrew Moore said...

Lorent, thank you for the wonderful insight! Definitely gives a bloke from Belfast, Northern Ireland a bit more depth and understanding to the movie and the cultural significant of the environments and people who populate this story.

lorent said...

Glad to be of service. And I thank you Andrew for allowing me to share my experiences. The Ozarks are definitely a different sort of area.


Sarah said...

You remember so much more detail than me! That is why this is your thing I suppose. But loved the movie and your company!8/10 for movie, 10/10 for Jennifer Lawrence.x

BRENT said...

This has only just played here in NZ.I saw it last night and I just cannot praise Jennifer Lawrence enough. What talent from such a young actress.
This is a very bleak harrowing film and I loved it.