Monday, July 19, 2010

Movie Review: Winter's Bone

Winter’s Bone *** ½
Directed by:
Debra Granik.
Written By: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (Ree Dolly), John Hawkes (Teardrop), Kevin Breznahan (Little Arthur), Dale Dickey (Merab), Garret Dillahunt (Sheriff Baskin), Shelley Waggener (Sonya), Lauren Sweetser (Gail), Ashlee Thompson (Ashlee), William White (Blond Milton), Casey MacLaren (Megan), Isaiah Stone (Sonny), Valerie Richards (Connie), Beth Domann (Alice), Tate Taylor (Satterfield), Cody Brown (Floyd), Ronnie Hall (Thump Milton).

I get tired of movies that seem to be on autopilot. Most movies are in that from the beginning of the movie, we can often see precisely what is going to happen by the end of the movie. These can get boring, even if they are well made, which is why I prefer movies that are more grounded in their characters then their stories. Winter’s Bone is a movie like that – a film that draws its characters in realistic ways, and then expands the main characters world into a place we rarely see in the movies. The film takes place in the backwoods of Missouri, where everyone knows everyone, everyone seems to be related somehow, and that has a code of silence more unbreakable than the mafia’s. They take care of their own one way or another around here.

The characters in Winter’s Bone are not on autopilot. Lesser filmmakers probably would have turned the film into a thriller, and while there are some elements of thrillers here, this movie is not a thriller. It stars Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderful performance as Ree Dolly, a mature beyond her years 17 year old. She has to pretty much raise her two younger siblings by herself. Her father runs off for weeks at a time, and her mother has had a nervous breakdown, and now spends all her time drugged out and staring off into space. She doesn’t complain, but just gets it done. When the sheriff comes to her house and tells her that her dad is due in court next week, she tells him to piss off. But then he tells her that in order to get bail, he put up their house and their land. If he doesn’t show, they lose it all. She hasn’t seen her dad in months, but she needs that house to take care of her brother and sister. So she goes to see everyone she can think of who may know where he dad is. These are people who do not like to talk to anyone, and are not going to be worn down by some pissant kid, who they would just as soon kill as tell her anything.

Lawrence carries the movie throughout. She is in practically every scene, and she has an unwavering moral code. She is smart, but had to drop out of school at a young age, and doesn’t really understand the way the world outside her own works – as when she goes to talk to a military recruiter who explains how things really work. All she knows is her backwoods home, and the people who have been around her forever. To her, all of this is normal, and although she looks longingly at the kids who get to go to school, she knows she isn’t one of them. She doesn’t complain or cry, she just goes ahead and does what needs to be done.

One of the accomplishments of Winter’s Bone is how well the cast fits together. Aside for Lawrence, John Hawkes and Garrett Dillahunt, I didn’t recognize the actors in this movie at all. They have the kind of faces you don’t see much in movies – beaten down, sad as if they have seen too much in their lives, yet determined to go on seeing it. Lawrence, who is gorgeous, doesn’t allow her beauty to overpower her character, nor does she stick out like a sore thumb like many beautiful women do in movies like this. She has the same look in her eyes, just younger, more hopeful and optimistic. John Hawkes, so good in so many movies, looks just like everyone else in the movie. He is turning himself into a kind of Harry Dean Stanton, of whom it was once written that the lines on his face look like a roadmap to hell. Hawkes has that same look. These actors fit into their surroundings, and the rest of the cast brings themselves up to their level.

Written and directed by Debra Granik (who made the excellent Down to the Bone a few years ago, which kickstarted Vera Farmiga’s career), Winter’s Bone is intelligent and brilliantly well made. At times, the film lacks narrative drive – it spends perhaps a little too much time on all those faces, and not enough moving the plot forward, but that’s a minor flaw. Winter’s Bone is about people and places we rarely see in the movies – and I for one am glad that I saw these ones.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for such a wonderful review Dave, "...the rest of the cast brings themselves up to their level"

    I am one of the unrecognizable in the film Winter's Bone. I appreciate your support and kind words.

    Shelley Waggener