Directed by: Debra Granik
Written by: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (screenplay), Daniel Woodrell (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey
In the realm of regional specific tales of mortality, Winter’s Bone is endowed with the element that puts it in the caliber of every other movie in this subgenre: hollowness.
Just like the dryness in Frozen River or the arid feeling in No Country for Old Men, the film holds an empty feeling that results from holding itself to the conventions of convention-bucking indie cinema. The conventions rely on being as minimalistic and realistic as possible, which is indeed interesting and brave, but results in a complete lack of tension, which is key for a character based thriller.
Set far and deep in the destitute Missouri Ozarks, the story follows young heroine Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) caring for her two younger siblings and ill mother while her father has vanished after getting into the trouble with the law for his involvement in methamphetamine production. With his bail debt placed on the family home, Ree is informed that if her father does not show she will lose everything they have. Instead of accepting this fate, Ree goes on a backcountry scour, searching through the hush-hush family litter to find word of her father, putting her own life at risk on more than one occasion. It’s a grim method she can only describe by claiming it’s her ‘bread and butter.”
It’s a narrative of will in a way, possibly a survival story. As Ree digs deeper through the forest of family trees, she finds the roots get deeper and more tangled as she goes. It is a large task to ask of Lawrence, who plays the role with the perfect balance of sincerity and grit. Encountering kin who want to talk like everything is nobody’s business; Ree undergoes an exploration of her own ability to become an adult, testing her own intellect and spirit as a person in such environment. This is probably the only interesting part in the whole film.
Debra Granik does an excellent job sculpting a tone and look so vivid and raw to draw her story onto. She sets up a deadening backdrop filled with leafless trees, thin chilling air and a frozen-in-time vibe for her locally selected actors to exhibit the lives of hard-edged people in their dreary corner of the country. It’s an interesting sight; it is just too bad the film doesn’t quite match its ability to fascinate.
Every time a movie of the sort comes out, it is regarded as classical for being minimalistic stylistically or for being tension driven. The problem that lies with this is that none of these movies are ever really that tense. Winter’s Bone is no exception. It is constantly too continuous with its tension or just forgets how to use cinematic devices in order to create it.
Just like the others and like Ree Winter’s Bone relies a lot on some notion of bread and butter. Sure it’s enough to fill up and survive on, but it’s only enough food to keep you bare bones.