Directed by Debra Granik
Written by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
Winter’s Bone is a film that I am sure many people have never heard of. It had a fairly small release and features no names that the casual filmgoer would be familiar with. It stars a young woman, Jennifer Lawrence, and is directed by unseasoned filmmaker Debra Granik. The plot of the film centers on Ozark America. It seems to have everything going against it in terms of being a hit, or a huge Hollywood success, yet it is a success. Just not in terms of viewership and box office earnings.
As I said, the film centers on a young woman, 17, in the Ozark area of rural America. For those who are unfamiliar, the Ozarks are in the Southern Missouri/Northern Arkansas area, and usually plays second fiddle to the similar conditions in Appalachia, which is most prominent in Eastern Kentucky probably. The girl, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), lives at home and must take care of her younger brother and sister because her mother, whom she also must care for, is incapable, and her father cooks drugs and is never around. The film progresses through the journey of Ree and her need to find her father, dead or alive, in order to retain their property, which was used in order to get him out on bond. So when he is nowhere to be found, Ree must brave the world of the Ozarks in order to save her family and survive.
The remarkable thing about this film is that it takes its time and is in no hurry to get us to the end, probably because the film is not about the end, but rather the journey that Ree takes in order to save her family’s well-being. It is quiet in dialogue, but loud in visuals, and not so much that the cinematography is astounding, but rather that Granik knows how to let the settings and characters actions and gestures tell the story rather than the characters words. She lets it unfold in front of our eyes. And casting Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role was a stroke of genius. Her delivery is almost so unsympathetic that it takes you out of the film when in reality it is her toughness and stubbornness that proves to be the grit and the heart of the film. She comes off as stoic when inside we can feel for her struggle. It really is a beautiful performance. I hope she builds off her Golden Globe nomination and heads into an Oscar nod because it would be deserving.
At the end of the day the film really hinges on how you react to Ree and her journey. The journey is what it is, but what I took from the film was the humanism found within these characters, not just Ree, but also her uncle ‘Teardrop’, played beautifully by John Hawkes, and the rest of these people living in the Ozarks, even the villains. On the whole it is not a film that blew me away or made me happy, because it is not a happy story. But Winter’s Bone is a film worth acknowledging for what it is, which a fine piece of storytelling with some really human conditions and goals, which it strives for and seems to complete.