You immediately learn from watching Winter’s Bone that not all of the United States’ deep dark secrets are kept within the confines of the White House. The backdrop of the Ozark Mountains in the country’s centre as shown here displays a very bleak look at country life, where more often than not families struggle to survive by making an honest living. The repercussions of such a situation make for compelling material, as you see that persistence can act as both a blessing and a curse.
Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is a seventeen-year-old Ozark girl who acts as a mother for younger siblings Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) because their own is mentally ill. Her father makes crystal meth for a living and disappears for weeks at a time. When she learns their house will be repossessed unless her father makes his trial (because he’s signed it to his bond), Ree must do everything she can to find him.
What you come to sadly realise through Winter’s Bone is the extreme hardship that some Missourian teens come to face. Ree’s a high-school dropout to make ends meet, her best friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser in her feature debut) is married with a child, and she has to act carefully around verbally-abusive relatives such as her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes; American Gangster). As she tries to break the barriers surrounding her father’s social (drug-scene) circle Ree finds an unflinching resistance against any form of help, which creates the film’s backbone.Director Debra Granik creates constant tension as Ree continues to encounter hurdle after hurdle, while you unconsciously see character development throughout. Teardrop works on his relationship with Ree in his own way; an integral development is handled well, leaving you with an almost sympathetic feeling towards her uncle.
For a director with few films under her belt, Granik handles a delicate web of deceit well as you’re jerked from intrigue to suspense to horror and back again; the climax is absolutely gut-wrenching. Digital filming creates a crisp bite which adds to the bleak Missouri backdrop, and the story is kept at a mostly steady pace across 100 minutes. It’s easy to be captivated by the small detail of incorrect speech, with Granik and Anne Rosellini’s dialogue effective (having already worked together on 2004’s Down to the Bone), while the casting is just about flawless. Lawrence portrays Ree as such a defiant young adult, while Hawkes’ Teardrop is intriguing and Dale Dickey’s (TV’s My Name Is Earl) Merab is haunting. Winner of Sundance Festival’s Grand Jury prize and based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone is a chilling reflection of nature’s darker side.
Worthy of its award wins, Winter’s Bone demands a watch because of its unflinching direction and performances.
- Winter’s Bone is in limited release across Australia on October 28.