Winter’s Bone

30 Nov

Title: Winter’s Bone
Debra Granik
Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell
Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Garret Dillahunt, Dale Dickey, Shelley Waggener
MPAA Rating:
R, some drug material, language and violent content
100 min
Major Awards:
1 NBR Award
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

Winter’s Bone is a film that lasts 100 minutes and grabs your attention for every last one of them. The sophomore directorial effort from Debra Granik, whose 2004 debut Down to the Bone was phenomenal and boasted an impeccable performance from the great Vera Farmiga who’s gone on to great things since.

This film is even better, and its young star Jennifer Lawrence gives an even better performance, which is saying something, and I’m sure is an actress that will go on to seriously amazing things. The talent on display by Ms. Lawrence in this film is tremendous, a true star-making performance in every sense of the word, and if she doesn’t get an Oscar nomination then there’s something seriously wrong with the Academy because it’s not every day that a 20 year-old gives this sort of powerhouse showing.

This is dark film, one that will haunt you throughout because of Ms. Granik’s scrappy style of filmmaking, she gives this a very naturalistic feel, that makes this just a very powerful film through and through. A sparse kind of film that has a performance from Ms. Lawrence that won’t leave my mind any time soon, and that tells a very different sort of coming-of-age story, one that’s set in a very real place and that tackles a very real issue in a very real culture, and it tackles all of that with an unblinking precision, and how Ms. Lawrence captures the emotions of her character, everything she goes through, the fear, the decisiveness, I just want to see what she does next, because, trust me, the one she’ll get for this will only be the first Oscar nomination for her, because with a talent like this at such a young age you can’t help but think she’ll eventually win one. And this really isn’t just me talking because I’m still infatuated with her performance because I just saw the film, this is just me stating facts.

When you hear people talk about the power of film, you will hear people say that films are an experience that will transform you for a while, an escapist entertainment, that the ideal film will no doubt crawl itself under your skin and fully transport you somewhere else, only to leave when the end credits start rolling, and even then leaving a bit of it left with you. That’s the supposed power films should have over one, and every year there are a few films that have that power, and Winter’s Bone is one such film. This is just a beautiful work of art.

What’s so lovely about Winter’s Bone is how understated it is, even when it’s deep in one of its moments of relentless urgency it goes by gently, there are obviously some very harsh scenes here courtesy of the crime backdrop this one’s set against, but the way they’re handled is absolutely remarkable.

When I watch a small film that I love so much all I want is for more people to experience it. And I hope Ms. Lawrence’s possible Oscar nomination and other awards season love that will surely be bestowed upon her will get more exposure to this film, because I seriously fell in love with it, it’s a moving film, one that in all its darkness has a huge amount of hope and life in it.

Winter’s Bone is also a  great addition to the long line of films about ordinary people who are pitted against an extraordinary situation and must face it head on. Such a person in this film is Ree Dolly, the character that Ms. Lawrence so sublimely embodies. She lives in the tough part of the Ozarks, her mom is mentally ill and her father is gone because he was a meth manufacturer and got busted, so she’s the boss in the house, raising her younger siblings in seriously abysmal conditions while only just 17.

How Ms. Granik displays this part of America is truly astounding to watch, her approach is so rustic and naturalistic that it conveys exceedingly well the harsh realities that Ree is facing living here, it really feels like no man’s land, like a deserted place that you couldn’t believe existed, when in fact it’s very real, and you can’t fathom how Ree grew up there with absent parents and became the strong-willed girl we see.

Then comes the catalyst even of the film as the sheriff of the town comes around and informs Ree that her deadbeat father has skipped bail, and not only that, but that he had put up her home as bail bond, and that if he doesn’t turn up during the next week, she’ll have to vacate the premises. And that’s when Ree becomes so extraordinarily fierce and determined, and you can tell that she never had anybody to depend on as she decides that she’s going to have to track her father down for the sake of her brother and sister.

And so Ree embarks on a dark journey through a torn up landscape in the search of her father, whether he’ll be dead or alive she doesn’t know, but she just wants to find him either way so that they won’t be able to take away her home.

She starts meeting all sorts of characters along the way, and Ms. Granik does an amazing job at exploring them. She doesn’t judge them, she doesn’t make clichés out of them, she just explores them, their psychology, she explores how they got to be where they are now, living in a place that seems like it barely survived some sort of apocalypse. The Ozarks region is easy to caricature by now, but it’s evident that Ms. Granik and her team spent a lot of team doing their research and really immersing themselves into this culture, and this feels as authentic as they come.

One of said characters Ree encounters is Teardrop, played by John Hawkes, who’s her father’s very scary older brother. The performance by Mr. Hawkes is seriously stunning, he terrifies us like crazy, his eyes, his demeanor, everything about him just sets your nerves on fire. If Ree is the one that gives you hope, it’s the people like Teardrop that make you realize just how special hope is in such a place, a place in which people like him exist is one you’d want to stay as far away from as possible.

Just a beautiful film all around, Winter’s Bone will suck you in like crazy in the despair, but keep you going because of the hope the girl exudes, because even though she grew up in the worst conditions she’s still an optimist on life.

Winter’s Bone is definitely one of this year’s strongest films, Ms. Granik gets a very compelling performance from Ms. Lawrence, and from everyone else involved for that matter, and that’s what makes this such a tremendous achievement. This is a film that counts with a star-making performance, that depicts a slice of culture to perfection and that feels real in its sadness and in its hope, a strange feat to achieve but one that’s conquered with grace by Winter’s Bone.

As I write this, Winter’s Bone just won the Gotham Award for Best Feature and Best Ensemble last night (though Jennifer Lawrence somehow lost in the Breakthrough Performance race), and was nominated for a whopping seven Spirit Awards this morning. Hopefully the same success will translate come Oscar night.

Grade: A+


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