Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Winter's Bone: A Review

I walked into Winter’s Bone nearly blind.

I had seen the trailer. I knew that it had taken Sundance by storm. I had read the reviews that gushed and praised and squealed with delight. I knew that it was the third film by writer/director Debra Granik, a director I’d never heard of, despite the fact that one of her films starred Vera Farmiga, and upon a little bit more research discovered that both of her previous films seemed to have focused primarily on “struggling with addiction”—which goes a long way toward explaining why I hadn’t heard of her before this. I also knew that this film starred an unknown young actress named Jennifer Lawrence, a new-ish talent that everyone in Hollywood seems pretty excited about right now. And finally, I knew that Winter’s Bone was based off a novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell, a book I had never heard of.

So… despite the apparent deep wellspring of knowledge concerning this film that I possessed pre-viewing, I still didn’t know what to expect. I was excited.

And in a nutshell: It was fantastic.

Winter’s Bone is the story of Ree Dolly, a 17 year old young woman from Dirt Poor Hillybilly-berg, Missouri-ish. Ramshackle is a word that comes to mind. Destitute is another. Muddy, perhaps, is another or maybe: broken down. There is a clear and rampant sense of hopelessness everywhere, one born of determined ignorance stubbornly crouching down within a xenophobic culture, and it drapes everything like a wet blanket, heavy and suffocating. And although pervasive, it is a credit to Granik that she never dips into poverty porn or gets preachy or superior to the setting’s inhabitants, this isn’t a voyeuristic journey through an “oh-so-terrible-aren’t-we-lucky” world, no, this is Ree’s world.

It’s damp.

It’s chilly.

And it is filled with secrets.

Ree’s days are spent doing the daily chores at her parent’s crappy little house and taking care of her younger brother and sister. Her Mom is useless, mentally absent, depressed, borderline catatonic and her Father is a well known Meth Cooker, often absent, even when he isn’t off in the deep and misty woods of the surrounding hills. Ree is wistful for something else, but she doesn’t whine. She’s fatalistic, realistic, but when she drops her siblings off at school, she pauses, wandering the quiet halls between classes and trailing a feeling of slow detachment behind her. It is a palatable sense that her world is slowly but surely slipping away from those white tiled corridors and clean brick walls, never to return. You can see her inner struggle. She wants to join the Army—her only real hope for a future of her own—but how can she? Who will care for her family?

Then the Sheriff shows up at the house (Garret Dillahunt! Yay!). Her Father has skipped his bail and he has put the family’s house up as collateral. In three days, if he doesn’t show up at court, Ree’s family will lose the house and with that… everything. So Ree sets off into the woods, hunting her father, following a dark and twisting trail through a murky landscape of volatile meth heads and red necks as vicious as whipped dogs.

The worst of them, in terms of pure menace, the one who can cower whole groups with a glare, is her Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes! Yay!). A skinny, weathered, hard as nails old bastard, he tries to turn Ree away, knowing more about her Dad’s situation than he lets on, but he soon gains a grudging respect for her and together they turn over stones and go where they shouldn’t, asking questions no one wants to answer. Is her Father alive or dead and why won’t anyone say? It gets hard and violent from there, and in the end, it’s just Ree—her Uncle was lost long ago to that culture, he is a part of it, his destiny is set. Ree has to see it through on her own. The best part is, she’s never treated as a superhero or special or above or even that clever, she just perseveres. She just refuses to give up, going farther and farther into a world she is not welcomed in. The answers she eventually finds are brutal and her choice—escape or family—is ultimately made, for better or worse.

All in all, this is a fantastic film. It might be hard to find, but it’s worth the effort. This is my vote (so far) for best of the year.

Go see it.



Anonymous said...

I heard John Hawkes is great in this. I need to check it out. If I can't make it to the theater, which is likely, this sounds like a great rental for Nina and me.

Jon said...

He is. The role is such a stark contrast to the kind of fidgety, nerdy guys he usually plays.

the library bird said...

great review!!