Fri 25 Jun 2010
2004 saw “Down to the Bone” announce director Debra Granik’s arrival to the film world – a gritty look at a woman struggling with addiction while trying to hold her family together. Six years later, Granik and her team bring us “Winter’s Bone” – another gritty look at a woman (though only 17) in rural (and I mean RURAL) Southern Missouri who must track down her father who’s jumped bail and put their house up for bond; if she fails, it’ll mean homelessness for the brother, sister and mother she has found herself responsible for thanks to daddy’s indiscretions with the law.
Great care was taken by the film makers to remain true to the spirit of the source material – the novel of the same name written by Southern Missouri native Daniel Woodrell. Granik and Anne Rosellini wrote the final screenplay and worked hard to keep the people and their surroundings from becoming just another joke about hillbillies.
They shot on location in Missouri, using real people, their homes and their insight to make sure everything was as authentic as possible. I also greatly appreciated that composer Dickon Hinchliffe didn’t feel the need to punch up the dramatic moments with unnecessary score. Tense moments speak for themselves and don’t always need a build up to tell the audience that something important is happening.
Of course, it really helps that Granik and the casting department chose Jennifer Lawrence. Last seen in “The Burning Plain” (where she was the best element of the whole project), Lawrence clearly utilized the outdoor skills and sensibilities that she gained from her Kentucky upbringing to infuse remarkable sincerity to the role.
Lawrence isn’t just the lead actress, she’s why “Winter’s Bone” works … and works so well. Not only must the audience sympathize with her plight, stuck rearing her younger siblings while Mom lives in a fugue state, we must also believe that someone can have such tremendous reserves of courage, tenacity and indomitable spirit. Lawrence pulls all of this off seemingly without any problem and allows for total immersion into this strange, danger-fraught sub-culture of meth labs, feuding families and backwoods lifestyle.
As Lawrence begins to poke under bigger and bigger rocks to find her missing father, we are introduced not only to a collection of shady men who all have something to do with the trafficking of meth in the region but also the women who stand behind them. One of the key themes in the film is a bizarre and twisted sisterhood that develops in communities where men rule with the back of their hand.
At times subservient, there’s also an amazing depth to these women – who not only understand the perils of stepping our of place but also when that becomes necessary – whether it’s to help another woman stuck without anyone to turn to, or in order to protect the men from themselves. It’s a precarious line that Granik and the team walk but it makes for such a more satisfying and genuine film in the end.
Like with Katie Jarvis’ equally powerful turn in “Fish Tank“, Lawrence’s performance here is a clear indication that 2010 might be one of fantastic female roles – which is often an issue in an industry dominated marquees with Y chromosomes who seemingly have plum projects drop into their laps year after year.
Although it could become something to joke about, even if Granik uses “bone” in the title her next feature film, after seeing the results of her first two, I couldn’t care less what she does … as long as she makes another film. Easily one of the top two or three movies of the year, “Winter’s Bone” shouldn’t be missed by anyone who loves powerful dramatic work and it earns a 4.5 out of 5.