Traveling across broken trailers, burned out houses, barking dogs and the seemingly post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the Ozarks, Ree Dolly searches for her, probably, dead father. Her father, Jessup, is a meth cooker who got on the bad side of the law and put their house up for his bail. When he doesn’t show up for court, Ree decides to find him at any cost in this unflinching film that will take her to some of the worst parts of rural America.
“Winter’s Bone”, directed by Debra Granik and based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell, looks like a bad nuclear winter film from the 1980s. I assure you, it is anything but. The film starts with a shot of dead trees on a large hill. This sets the tone for the entire film. The dead of winter juxtaposes the emptiness that fills each character and the rather morbid story of a seventeen year old girl who has to find her father and prove that he’s dead, or convince him to go to court.
Ree’s mother has been driven insane from all of the things Jessup did to her and the family. Because of this, Ree takes care of her two younger siblings (she dropped out of school because of this). Jennifer Lawrence, who is known for being the daughter on the sitcom “The Bill Engvall Show”. Don’t let that turn you away. She gives an incredible performance as Ree and there is never a lighthearted moment in the film. It is intense and shocking without being bloody or violent, something that has been lost in Hollywood, and proves that some people still appreciate atmosphere and clever writing that is not seen in the modern thriller.
Ree goes to her uncle Teardrop, played by John Hawkes who gives a creepy but ultimately sympathetic performance, for help in finding his brother. He’s a meth addict who brings a gun to the table, but is probably the nicest person she’ll encounter on her journey through the meth world that she’s forced to live in. Not surprisingly, Ree has become numb to all the horrors in the world and takes it in stride, even when the big monsters are revealed to be humans who have no qualms with killing.
“Winter’s Bone” won the Grand Jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and deservedly so. It gives the subtle intensity that is rare this days, and every performance in spectacular, showing that Granik’s directing skill is spot on. Keep an eye on her. “Winter’s Bone” is playing at the Landmark Cinema on Clark and Diversey and Century 12 in Evanston.
“Winter’s Bone” Directed by Debra Granik
Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly
John Hawkes as Teardrop
Garret Dillahunt as Sheriff Baskin
Dale Dickey as Marab
Rated R for profanity and some violence