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.
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.