Debra Granik, Anne Rossellini (Novel: Daniel Woodrell)
Jennifer Lawrence, Garret Dillahunt, Lauren Sweetser, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Sheryl Lee
R for some drug material, language and violent content
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A slice of Ozarkian life that is neither characteristically slice of life nor characteristically Ozarkian. Winter's Bone tells the story of a teenager trying to track down her father when she discovers that he put his house up as collateral on a bail bond and then disappeared before the trial.
Jennifer Lawrence commands the film as Ree Dolly, a self-reliant young woman trying to keep everything together when the threat of losing her house, land and her family leads her into the dark den of the meth trade in southwest Missouri. Ree knows her father is a meth cook, but also knows him to be a good one. As she tries to locate his whereabouts, she comes into contact with a frightening array of people who caution her not to dig too deeply for her own safety. There's subterfuge, misdirection and violence inflicted upon Ree as she slowly narrows to the truth.
Like Deliverance before it, Winter's Bone is a horrific saga with a semi-positive outcome that threatens to categorize all backwoods yokels as tweaked out freaks not to be messed with. Living in the Ozarks myself, it's hard to appraise a film that tries to wallow in the worst of the region without showing the best of it. Deliverance made rural Kentuckians the butt of countless jokes. Winter's Bone threatens to do the same, which I think is the movie's biggest flaw.
It's a flaw I can almost live with considering the rest of the film. There are familiar motifs in the film that compare it favorably with a number of Mafia flicks. And were it not set in the world of strung-out methamphetamine junkies and dealers and set in New York City or Chicago, it might even be confused for a film like The Godfather. of course, the glitz and glamor of Francis Ford Coppola's film help keep it from feeling too realistic, but Winter's Bone goes for grit and realism even without being true to locale.
The biggest lesson I took away from the film is not the indomitable will of a woman determined to succeed, but that even in a violent, oppressive landscape where poverty is a common thread and drug use is rampant, the power of community still reigns. Even those who would mistreat and marginalize Ree end up supporting her and making sure that she survives another day even if they don't particularly like her.
January 17, 2011