DIRECTED BY: DEBRA GRANIK
WRITTEN BY: DEBRA GRANIK & ANNE ROSSELLINI
NOVEL BY: DANIEL WOODRELL
OVERALL SCORE: 8.00/10
The sole responsible member of her house, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), must find her father prior to his court date or the house, in which she currently raises her two younger siblings, will be claimed by the father's bail bondsman.
Reminiscent of 2008's Frozen River, Winter's Bone is an unflinching, slow, character driven look at a town built upon poverty, drugs, and societal retreat. Moody, without ever being pretentious, Winter's Bone is a beautifully crafted cinema experience which calls to mind the work of Jane Campion and John Boorman.
Indie director Debra Granik finds a beautiful balance between visual awe and harsh reality. The second time feature film director excels in challenging both the characters and the viewer. Maintaining a simple narrative, but wrapping it in a perfectly believable ambiguity that forces upon the viewer love and frustration in equal doses. By the end, Winter's Bone proves you don't have to spell every thing out for people to connect the dots, and sometimes it's a far more appreciable experience if you don't.
Handling the screen, Jennifer Lawrence breaks through in leaps and bounds, especially if you consider her main claim to fame prior to this was The Bill Engvall Show. Lawrence presents the character with a stubborn sense of necessity, and overbearing, that makes her relatable without being excessively emotional. Ree Dolly is exactly what the world has made her, and exactly what she needs to be to survive it.
Much of the same could be said for Dolly's uncle Teardrop, played by the always excellent John Hawkes. Teardrop is not a character that's easy to relate to, he's far more distant, borderline cruel, but well layered and there when needed. Winter's Bone gives Hawkes the perfect platform to display the wonderful talent he's always had outside the more generic characters he's often given. If anything, I'm debating if I should start my John Hawkes for Oscar nomination campaign now, or give it a few weeks.
Still, even with the beautiful visuals, characters, and talent, Winter's Bone suffers some minor hiccups. The most obvious one being a scene involving Ree Dolly and an Army recruiter. While I admit the scene offers some perspective on the transformation Dolly must make, the dialogue that carries the scene feels incredibly forced and redundant. The material covered in this scene has already become apparent to the viewer, and unless we believe Dolly must hear it to believe it, it simply slows down the pace of the film.
Luckily enough for the viewer, Winter's Bone is not the kind of film where slowing down is a big change. Winter's Bone is intentionally slow to begin with, building off its own core story into tales of character and lifestyle. A beautiful, dark, tale that never shies away from what is necessary to tell the story. Granik's tale of family and survival exists not for popcorn theatrics, rather one for the more composed viewer. One who wishes to think, feel, and connect as opposed to be wrapped up in explosions.