Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010)


Jennifer Lawrence (Ree Dolly), John Hawkes (Teardrop), Kevin Breznahan (Little Arthur), Dale Dickey (Merab). Screenplay by Anne Rosellini & Debra Granik. Directed by Debra Granik. Rating: 15. Running time: 100 minutes.

Winter’s Bone is all about the powerhouse performance of its lead actress and the part of the world she has the unfortunate task of inhabiting. Ree Dolly may only be seventeen, but she has more responsibilities and problems than thirty seven year olds do. She cares for her senile mother and two younger siblings by day, relying on welfare and hunting to provide food for them in the old wooden house her drug addicted father left behind, before going awol in his life of crime. She owns a double-barreled shotgun, chops wood with an axe and has only one friend not because she’s unpopular, but because there’s nobody else around.

This region – the Ozarks in southern Missouri – is about as barren and stereotypically rural as America gets. If you thought the desolate and desert-laden Texan landscape of No Country For Old Men was eerie in its atmosphere, the emptiness of the lakes, forests and carless roads here will affect you just as much. Everybody in the local community ‘knows’ eachother, primarily because of familial ties but also because when there’s this few people around, it’s impossible not to know who everyone is.

The trouble starts when the Sheriff informs Ree that her invisible father, Jessup, was recently caught and charged for cooking meth, and won bail by agreeing to the seizure of Ree’s home were he not to return. Ree sets off to find him, knowing failing to do so means homelessness.

It soon becomes clear discussion of Jessup amongst the locals is strictly taboo, almost Voldemort style in its absoluteness. Ree is treated by everyone with vile hostility, eventually being battered and bruised and almost giving up and opting to join the army in an attempt to rescue their home instead – apparently $40,000 is awarded for signing up. Another indication, if anyone needed it, of what Michael Moore alerted us to in Fahrenheit 9/11: America sends its most desperate and poorest young citizens off to die in the name of security, by enticing them with a pay-cheque. Anyway, it’s soon clear such a plan was ill-thought out. Ree’s attention reverts to finding her father, who it soon becomes clear is more likely dead than alive.

There’s little tension here; you’ll find Ree occasionally threatened, but never hiding behind trees nor escaping through forests as such a setting for a film would normally necessitate on at least one occasion. Instead, every scene is crafted to be all about conversations, and how perfectly they are all performed. It borders on too slow and too quiet at times, but the sense of realism is so strong, the characters so believable, as to soon render such reservations irrelevant. One scene in particular (which you’ll know I meant to refer to here when you see it, but which I couldn’t possibly give away) sums up the horrifying, chilling nature of the whole situation perfectly. Winter’s Bone won big at Sundance earlier in the year; the fact it is so convincing is the reason why.

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