Winter’s Bone is one of those rare American indies that manages to be both a cinematic essay in social realism and cinematic poetry, a journey not only through the backlands of Missouri, but also through the human soul. A film that is both particular to a place and a time, and universal. This is American cinema at its best.
Powerfully acted and beautifully shot, Winter’s Bone follows 17 year old Ree (a wonderful Jennifer Lawrence) in her quest for the fate of her missing father, a drug addict who has put their house, yard, barn and land as payment for his bond (bail) for his forthcoming court appearance. If the property is repossessed, she, her young siblings Ashley and Sonny, and their invalid mother will be thrown into the wilderness to fetch as dogs, as she said in one of the key and emotionally charged scenes of the film.
We first see Ree taking their horse to be cared for a neighbour, because, as she put it: “Right now, I’m short of cash”. This particular scene sets the tone for the film, the harsh nature of the environment, the social bonds of mutual dependency formed in rural communities as theirs is, the strong and powerful character of Ree, and her will to survive and care for her family.
A subsequent encounter between her and the local sheriff sets her in her path to find her father, learning soon after that he failed to turn up for the court hearing, making him a “runner” and endangering her and her family. Her steel is evident when she tells the sheriff “I’ll find him”, the strength in her eyes was a beauty to watch. This is a community of few words, but each one is charged with meaning. You miss one, and you miss a whole world.
Her adversity, and that of her family, and her enquiries, initially meets indifference from the community and some of her relatives. This indifference soon turns into open hostility as she starts to find out some unsavoury truths, however, the power of the blood reasserts as she confronts this hostility, the depth of the passions aroused powerfully depicted in a poetically charged scene set in a cattle market. The film becoming at this point a comment on the hopelessness and, yet, resilience of rural communities in America such as this and, incidentally, throwing some light on the background of some of the recruits for the American military.
Winter’s Bone has a very authentic feel in language, the characters and the environment. I understand that Jennifer Lawrence’s Kentucky roots made her easier to understand Ree, and the film was shot in locations in Missouri, using local people as extras and homes as sets.
I was also relieved to see an American independent movie that is not a bad Woody Allen clone or about boring and shallow New York socialites.
Winter’s Bone is, in an odd way, a feel good tale, but one that dug deep into my heart and which, I suspect, will stay in there for a long time.
Director: DEBRA GRANIK
Based on the novel Winter’s Bone by DANIEL WOODRELL
Cast: Jennifer LAWRENCE, John HAWKES, Kevin BREZNAHAN, Dale DICKEY,
ENGLISH / USA/ 2010 / 35MM / COLOR / 1.85 / DOLBY DIG / 100 min
Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, WINTER'S BONE is directed by Debra Granik (DOWN TO THE BONE) and adapted for the screen by Granik and Anne Rosellini. Based on the bestselling novel by Daniel Woodrell, this tense, naturalistic thriller stars Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Sheryl Lee and Tate Taylor.
Distributor: Artificial Eye