Winter’s Bone (2010) dir. Debra Granik
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Kevin Breznahan
By Matt McUsic
In 2004 Debra Granik won the Sundance Directors award for Down To The Bone. She returns to Sundance in 2010 with a masterwork that slowly lures in an unsuspecting audience, taking them on a harrowing tale through the Ozark methlab underworld. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is simultaneously a fish out of a water and an unwilling insider by blood in the impoverished hillbilly organized crime scene. If you think Mafia movies are scary, try toothless, tattooed greasers who have truly nothing to loose by killing you. Such is the lot Ree is forced to deal with when she finds out her missing Father has put the family home up for bond and now risks repossession if he doesn’t show for his court date. Already on edge having to raise her younger brother and sister, Ree is forced to find her Father within a week or prove that he is dead.
The characters may sound cliché on paper, but Winter’s Bone is so genuine in mood and dialogue that we completely accept this world and the drama that enfolds within it. We sit on the edge of our seats enraptured as Ree tries every conceivable avenue to find her Father in his diabolical circle of “friends”. In a deeply patriarchal world with a barbaric code of conduct the stubborn Ree is in over her head from the very start, and knows it. But she’s a woman on a mission to save her family, and so Daniel Woodrell’s story has set up a complex character that must overcome her fears if she is to prevail.
Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Ree is the stuff of indie-oscar material and reminded many at the festival of Melissa Leo’s tour-de-force performance in Frozen River. But it’s John Hawkes who steals the show as Ree’s Father’s brother, Teardrop. His intensity and dark-charisma on screen is mesmerizing and unpredictable. Debra Granik keeps the string tight, maintaining the suspense with enough plot while taking advantage of every opportunity to infuse the film’s world with rich detail. Music, cinematography, location (filmed in Missouri) and writing all work together under an auteur’s unifying hand. The result is a focused, deeply layered piece of cinema that will leave you hungry for the next Debra Granik journey.