Winter’s Bone is a movie that shows that you can take a very old type of story and makes it fresh. Many stories have used the trope of one character on a journey against unbelievable odds, but by moving the setting to the Ozark Region of Missouri and having characters who aren't typical heroes and villains, you have a movie that mesmerizes from the first frame until the last.
Ree Dolly is a 17-year old girl dealing with a lot of issues that most kids her age know nothing about. Her dad has deserted the family, her mom has a condition that renders her incapable of helping out at all, leaving Ree taking care of two younger siblings while making sure everyone has something to eat and a place to keep them warm. The only dream she seems to have is to join the Army so she can get away from the culture that seems to trap most people in the Ozarks their whole lives.
The slim chance of happiness she might have in the world is all but snuffed out when the Sheriff tells her that her dad put the house up for bond and then ran, if he doesn’t show up for the court date, the house will be taken away. With no choice and no one to help, Ree goes into dangerous lands with unsavory and frightening folk to learn where her dad went.
Winter’s Bone is a film where it would be very hard for me to find one flaw in the execution. The acting is amazing, story is compelling, the direction of the film with the cinematography makes like you are in the Ozarks with the characters. To drill the story down to its core, it is a typical crime/detective story with many secrets to be uncovered and ulterior motives to discover. No one is to be trusted and no one is talking. All these things are very common in this type of film but the setting, acting and set design set it apart.
In most movies, people from the backwoods are portrayed as dumb caricatures to be laughed at, but in this film, these people are threatening and scary. The sense of danger always surrounds Ree but her desperate situation requires her to go further and further into the hornets’ nets. The director, Debra Granik, has made a movie that you forget is just a movie in five minutes. The scenes of a cold Missouri winter with its bleak colors throughout the day and its cold chill that lingers on the air and the run down houses and large wooded areas all make the world come alive and make you feel like you are watching a documentary instead of a scripted film.
Another reason the movie feels more real than most is the exceptional acting from its main stars. The main actress, Jennifer Lawrence, might be one of the greatest finds Hollywood has had in years. The movie rests on her shoulders and her shoulders alone and Lawrence more than rises to the occasion. You see determination, despair, hope, intelligence, fear, sadness and toughness in her through the movie. Ree Dolly is a fully fleshed out character and one that you can’t sum up in few words. The fact that a 17-year-old girl was traipsing through this horrible ordeal could have sunk the movie with a lesser performance but with Lawrence, she keeps all the balls in the air and makes the crackling noir-ish dialogue sound realistic. If this movie is any indication of the talent she has, I bet we will be hearing a lot more our of her in the future.
While Jennifer Lawrence was a revelation, the most interesting and mesmerizing performace in the film was John Hawkes portrayal of Ree’s uncle, Teardrop. The man is just a badass walking that has the heavies in the film are even a little weary of him. This movie is seen from the viewpoint of Ree and in the beginning Teardrop seems like a scary, uncaring man, throughout the movie, it is revealed than he is more than meets the eye. I have seen the actor in films/tv shows before and he is usually playing the squirrely guy but he transforms himself into a total badass into this film that he doesn’t even look the same thanks to his 100% immersion in his role. The whole film is a great piece of work, but it is taken to another level when Teardrop is on the screen. I would have watched a 2 hour film just about him and I hope Hawkes is remembered at awards time.
Many times a movie that has been relentlessly talked up and praised by critics and audiences has a way of underwhelming you when you finally see it. Winter’s Bone is one of those rare movies where they hype and praise is 100% right on and deserved. This movie is worth searching out and driving if need be to see. I will not be surprised when I hear the movie, Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes mention often during awards seasons and with critics top ten lists. Do yourself a favor and see the movie as soon as you can, that way, when it is named to countless best of lists for the year, you can nod your head in agreement.
This film is currently playing in theaters.
Directed by Deb Granik
Starring Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes