Winter’s Bone (2010)
Directed by Debra Granik
100 mins. Rated R (language and violence)
Winter’s Bone isn’t knocking anyone dead at the box office for several reasons: it’s an independent film, it has no star power, it lacks a major distributor, and its story line is bleak and depressing. But make no bones about it--it’s the best American film of 2010.
Winter’s Bone guts the American Dream like an illegally jacked deer. Its protagonist is Ree Dolly, Jennifer Lawrence in a performance that makes all the other Oscars hopefuls look like poseurs. Ree is a girl with deep troubles, not the least of which is that she’s seventeen and doesn’t have the luxury of being an adolescent. She lives in a ramshackle Ozarks cabin with a catatonic mother and two young siblings for whom she’s the de facto caregiver. Her daddy is AWOL and (apparently) a bail jumper who used the cabin to secure freedom before his court appearance. Ree needs to find him and make sure he keeps that date, or she, her brother, her sister, and her crazy mother will lose the cabin. Her journey through the Ozarks backwoods in search of her father makes Dante’s Inferno seem like a stroll through a tulip farm.
Director Debra Granik, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Anne Rosellini, shows us an America most people would rather pretend doesn’t exist. Think lawless Appalachia, mountain poverty, and blood feuds are relics of the past? Replace the moonshine stills of yesterday with meth labs, and the 19th century Ozarks become a 21st century nightmare where the code of the hills prevails, and where folks would rather mete out mountain justice than ask the local sheriff so much as the time of day. It’s just the way things are and people like Ree don’t get to have prolonged childhoods; their futures are dictated by circumstance, not dreams.
Jennifer Lawrence is stunning, a woman-child who must swallow pride, stare horror in the face, and grow up faster than anyone should. She strikes a perfect balance between steely resolve, resignation, sorrow, and fear. Almost as good is John Hawkes as her uncle Teardrop, the brother of Ree’s missing father. He has a tender side, but he’s as incendiary as dry straw in a blowtorch factory. One of the film’s open questions is whose side he’s on.
Open questions are among the many things that make this film special. Looking for easy-to-digest answers? Don’t. Looking for nostrums? None here. Want a tidy resolution? Sorry, life isn’t like that--especially for those who are dealt cards from the losing middle of a stacked deck. This is not an easy film to watch, but view it you should. It will leave you shattered, outraged, and perhaps horrified. But I will guarantee you will not forget it. Call this one a dark masterpiece. Find out why this adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.