Sunday, April 24, 2011

Winter's Bone

Year: 2010
Director: Debra Granik
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes

Plot: 17 year old Ree Dolly lives in the Ozark Mountain caring for her two younger siblings and her mentally unwell mother. When her good for nothing father jumps bail, she is forced to find him before his court date is up or risk losing their house.

Review: I chanced upon the DVD of this film as I visited the DVD store yesterday, and just had to pick this up. Simply because, out of the ten Best Picture nominees at the recent Oscars, Winter's Bone was one of two film nominees I hadn't seen yet.

I find it odd that this film is being marketed as a thriller, when it has very few to no thrills in it. Sure, there is an underlying sense of dread, some danger here and there, and the film is a dark and gritty view of small town life away from the big cities, but thrills? No. I wouldn't call this a thriller, but instead a well made drama.

Director Debra Granik does a great job in keeping the audience interested in the story. The pace is slow but the runtime isn't too long, so you wouldn't feel bored. Granik lets the audience see the story through Ree's eyes as the camera follows her around all the way, so we learn everything the same time she does. The cinematography is also excellent as cameraman Michael McDonough points his lens at the vast landscapes of forests, hills and trees. Occasionally he'll set his camera on dead objects like tree stumps, wooden tables and a trampoline outside Ree's house, to further capture the silence of life in these parts. One thing that did stick out like a sore thumb was a short black and white sequence of a squirrel about halfway through the picture. I had no idea why that was there.

Jennifer Lawrence is great as Ree, showing her courage and determination to find her father, even if she has to get herself into situations that would put her life in danger. She may be new to the film industry, but she is more than capable of carrying herself in the lead role. John Hawkes is excellent as her drug snorting uncle Teardrop, who initially comes off as a pretty mean and scary guy, but in the second half of the film becomes more accomodating to Ree. Hawkes is a revelation here for me, because I'm used to seeing him excel in bit supporting roles in films like From Dusk Till Dawn and Identity, where he usually plays a nervous guy. But here, he's downright intimidating, and would have nailed the Oscar he was nominated for if not for Christian Bale being nominated in the same year.

If there's one thing I found very interesting about Winter's Bone, is the fact that even in small towns that run on cattle, firewood and the like, there still exists and underworld society, in this case, one that is fueled by drugs. Even in this world, away from the big city, there is a mob boss, and asking the wrong questions could get you killed. You'd never expect that if you're a city guy like me.

Overall, Winter's Bone is a nice way to spend 100 minutes if you like good cinematography and great performances. (3.5/5)

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