Winter’s Bone (2010)
***** out of 5
Debra Granik’s second feature Winter’s Bone has a straightforward premise. A young girl, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) searches her insulated Ozark Mountain community for her missing father – her questions are at first met with silence, but dogged persistence leads her further and further into danger. As simple as the plot may be, the quality of this extraordinary and harsh film is anything but.
The secluded Missouri society in which Ree and her family scrape and strive to survive is reminiscent of the similar self-governed communities found in Graham Yost’s wonderfully enthralling series Justified – indeed, the show is set in the neighbouring state of Kentucky. Whereas there is parity between the show and Winter’s Bone in setting, and to a lesser extent tone, the film is a little bleaker, a little more nihilistic, a little more hopeless. There is no Raylan in Winter’s Bone; no heroic US Marshal to shoot the bad guy and restore order. Instead, our protagonist is the 17 year old Ree, played with incredible steel and grit by the tremendously talented Lawrence. Whilst attempting to simultaneously care for her younger brother and sister, as well as her mute, traumatised mother, Ree is forced to search the barren and perilous plains of the mountains for her on-the-run, crack-cooking father in order to save their home from repossession, and their family from homelessness.
Suffering in Granik’s film is rife; decay and harshness envelop the screen, saturating it of warmth and colour. It can be found in the bare and jagged trees, the dilapidated buildings and burnt out cars, but most importantly in Ree and her family; their reliance on neighbourly charity for food and their struggle to care for their animals and selves. For Ree however, the suffering worsens. Firstly, following a vicious beating that leaves her bright face and piercing grey eyes bloodied and bloated, and additionally during a particularly heart wrenching scene where the tough, unwavering young woman from the first part of the film shows a rare moment of fragility, becoming an understandably frightened teenager asking for her mother’s unforthcoming support. Lawrence is not short of acting support however, and John Hawkes in particular is excellent as Ree’s sinister and bedraggled uncle Teardrop – a big change from Hawkes’ more placid and polite portrayal of Sol Star in HBO’s Deadwood (incidentally, both Lawrence and Hawkes received Oscar nominations for their performances).
A splendid, spirited and savage film, that fully deserves the applause it has garnered. Crowned with an astonishing, assured breakthrough performance from Lawrence, whose presence on-screen is at times enough to thaw the glacial, hazardous surroundings with which Ree has to contest.