Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter's Bone (2010)

Image from IMP Awards

Winter's Bone (2010)

The critically acclaimed Winter's Bone, directed by Debra Granik and starring Jennifer Lawrence, is an atmospheric film set in a small community situated in the rural wilderness of the Ozark mountains. It is based on a novel (that I haven't read) that tells the story of a teenage girl named Ree (Lawrence) who looks after her impoverished family of two young siblings and a mentally unsound mother. Life's already a struggle, but when it comes to light that her drug manufacturing (think meth lab) father has disappeared days before being due to appear in court while leaving their family home as a bond, she embarks on a quest, one that forces her to grow up and fully bear the weight of being her family's matriarch.

Ree's quest - to find her father and get him to appear in court - forces her to become entangled with her sordid extended family and her father's nefarious associates; it is a quest that puts her life in danger. The narrative is slight - this is much more a film about character, setting, and atmosphere than about plot. The nature of this remote society with its idiosyncrasies and distinctive style of language are a large part of the film's appeal. The mystery isn't solved Sherlock Holmes style, instead it's based on vague second hand and unreliable information; the audience is just as blind as Ree as to what's actually going on, and we stumble along with her as the clock ticks away. What stands out is Ree's unwavering determination to save her family. In many ways the plot is incidental, with its conclusion flying in the face of narrative convention by not neatly wrapping things up. Contrary to what you'd expect there's nothing unsatisfying about this, and I'd cite it as a perfect example of how a plot isn't necessarily what a film is about.

Jennifer Lawrence is terrific in the lead role and there are a handful of character actors in this who round out a very good cast. It's visually and aurally stark and gloomy, reflecting the downbeat dreariness that flows through the community it depicts. It takes its time easing us into its setting but doesn't feel slow.

Having extolled its virtues, however, I confess it never really connected with me as much as I'd like. This admission notwithstanding I will say I'm glad I saw it; I found it rewardning and interesting and I'd urge anyone with more than a passing interest in films to check it out.


wunelle said...

A great summary. I saw the film when it came out and was quite impressed with it--especially with Lawrence and John Hawkes and the almost mythically threatening big man running the show.

Now I feel like I ought to watch it again!

Antimatter said...

I don't think I emphasized how good John Hawkes is in this and pretty much everything he's in, actually! It is definitely one of those that I feel certain will reward multiple viewings...