Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Winter's Bone (2010)


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.

Admirable, enjoyable, and beautifully crafted, Winter's Bone is the kind of film acutely aware viewers can get behind. Winter's Bone manages the craft of being subtle, without being incomprehensible. Granik puts you right into the middle of Dolly's story, her world, giving the viewer a brief insight into the life of impoverished America.

5 better thoughts:

Film Intel said...

I've been looking forward to this for a while (DVD due here end of November I think) but your comparison with FROZEN RIVER has me worried. I thought that was an OK-ish film that didn't really say very much but purported to, gaining more attention than it deserved because of its brilliant performances. I really hope I'm not about to be disappointed!

Castor said...

It's similar to Frozen River in how minimalistic the film is. Certainly, this aspect could turn off some people because it does feel really "indie".

Candice Frederick said...

i actually just got this in the mail form netflix was detahly afraid that it might be slow--reminiscent of Frozen River which ihad ixed feeligs about. interesting review. thismight be worth watching.

Univarn said...

@FilmIntel and Candice - when I say like Frozen River I mean in that it deals with a strong female character having to overcome an oppressive situation forced upon them by those only vaguely connected to their lives. That and they both deal with countryside and wrap themselves in the lifestyle of those living in these lesser income mountain towns. I'm not a big fan of Frozen River either, may have been better off leaving the reference off the review since people seem to be getting stuck on it.

@Castor There's definitely a strong element of minimalistic cinema to it. I don't always enjoy them, and they definitely approach boredom for those who prefer action flicks, but when done well there's very little like them.

The Mad Hatter said...

Eight out of eight! High praise here on LIE!!

Loved this one as well, a film my friend Kurt at Row Three calls "Hillbilly Noir". I was really drawn in by the way this community is driven to circle the wagons to protect their way of life...even from one of their own.

For further viewing, might I suggest Granik's other film DOWN TO THE BONE.

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