One of the greatest pleasures I get from attending the cinema is when a movie can take you to a place or a culture, another world far from your own. When this is done in a convincing manner it can be very rewarding. “Winter’s Bone” achieves this with great respect for the world it is depicting. This world is the Ozark mountains in Missouri an impoverished part of America that is rarely seen or known about. Of course ‘in-bred‘ and ‘redneck‘ will roll off your tongue to describe this world, but the human side of this story could be set in any part of society.
“Winter’s Bone” is directed by Debra Granik and she should be applauded for her compassion with the subject. The attention to detail reeks of authenticity (apparently full co-operation from Ozark families helped) and her non-judgmental approach to the people is the films greatest achievement.
At the heart of the movie is a career making and remarkable performance from newcomer Jennifer Lawrence – she plays Ree, a 17 year old who has the huge responsibility of looking after her siblings (a younger brother and sister) whilst her mother is in an unexplained comatose mental state, addicted to prescription pills. The local sheriff informs her that her father out on bond, charged with making crystal meth (the new moonshine?) has disappeared and if not found before a court appearance, they could lose their home. Dirt poor and hungry (they shoot and skin squirrels for a family meal) she heads into the woods to find out where or what has happened to her father. First stop is her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes – another remarkable performance in the film) who has a meth habit and warns her that there is a tough bunch of ‘family’ to contend with. They refuse to give her information lest they become witnesses. So begins her odyssey to find answers. She eventually does in a true gothic horror moment that is one of Jennifer Lawrence’s finest scenes – perhaps the one that is sure to gain her an Oscar nomination.
There are many sly observations on American society that have impact. When Ree visits a local school we see some gun toting students practicing some kind of army like regime. Another scene in which she teaches her younger siblings how to shoot a gun is alarming. Also, interestingly the women seem to be the protectors in this society, and also the saviors. I also found it interesting that a banjo features towards the end of the film – is this a nod to the film “Deliverance” ? a film that depicts (incorrectly I assume) a similar kind of people as murderous weirdos!
I highly recommend you seeing this film, another fine independent American film in the tradition of “Frozen River” and “Wendy And Lucy”. Studied performances, realistic environs, and emotional satisfaction – what more can you ask for?
The film won best film at the 2010 Sundance film festival as well as best screenplay – well deserved honours.