A dramatic winner at this year’s Sundance FF, Debra Granik’s gutsy, down home Ozark masterpiece (from her screenplay) is a must see, though it may be seen as too ‘artsy’ or too ‘indy’ come Oscar time. But make no mistake, not only is Winter’s Bone (her third feature) riveting entertainment, it sends a message as well, about people who have opted out and live their lives in their own way, part of a sub-culture driven by family and loyalty and keeping your enemies close (to the bone).
Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is forced to fend for herself, taking care of her fragile mother and her two young sibling’s, after her father goes missing. To make matters worse, there is an urgency to the search, since her father has skipped bail and put up the family homestead as collateral. The underbelly of these Ozarks is moonshine and meth cooking, dangerous games and you could go missing very easily if you make too much of a nuisance of yourself by asking the wrong people, the wrong questions. But Ree has no choice. And you don’t ever, ever talk or snitch. It’s suspected that Ree’s father did, and it’s assumed that he’s dead as a result. Ree must either find her father to show up for trial or prove that he is dead. The climactic scene where Ree discovers the truth is a gruesome, noir set piece that will stay with you for awhile.
Twenty year old Lawrence is compelling as the 17-year old Ree. A relative new-comer, she had a part in the overlooked Arriaga film, The Burning Plain, where she won an award at the Venice FF. Never widely released in this country, I had a chance to see it at TIFF ’08 (see Day 3).
John Hawkes plays a character named Teardrop (he’s married to Ree’s sister). Teardrop at first rebuffs her, refusing to help in any way, sticking to the code. Later he relents and supports her under very dangerous circumstances. Hawkes’ performance is in the eyes, and adds depth to his role.
Garrett Dillahunt plays the role of the town sheriff, a shifty character with a very familiar face. And no wonder. This guys been in everything, including a lot of television. Remember Simon in Burn Notice? How about nemesis Roman Nevikov in Life? Or Marshall Phillips in Damages? The Doctor in John From Cincinnati? Frances Woolcott in Deadwood? And on and on. He’s making a living as an actor.
A fine film with excellent acting, including a nice mix of professionals and amateurs.