Winter's Bone (15)

Directed by Debra Granik
Adapted screenplay written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosselini
Screening at FACT from 17th September 2010

Reviewed by Charles McIntyre

Debra Granik's adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's novel, Winter's Bone, is an inspirationally effective film that journeys into the cryptic Ozark Mountain communities of Missouri.

The film follows Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a seventeen year old girl struggling to raise her siblings and care for her mentally ill mother in the obscure Ozark wilderness. The absence of Ree's fugitive drug making father spirals from mere neglect to direct threat, as Ree learns he has signed the family stead away as his bail bond. If he fails to show for his trial in court, a bounty hunter tells her, their home will be taken as payment. Thus Ree's quest to find her father begins. Faced with the ominous task of confronting her father's criminal associates, Ree summons her inherent maternal courage and steps blindly into a world of violence, repression and hopelessness.

The film boldly depicts the poverty and backwardness still to be found in parts of rural America. What Granik manages to extract from this rarely glimpsed – but often dismissed – culture, is the lawlessness and social abandonment certain communities face. With local criminal overseers seeking to prolong the status quo of corruption and deprivation, those born in to the bitter cycle (particularly women) face a life of servitude and subordination.

Granik masterfully portrays an atmosphere of deadening misogyny, to which almost all of the women in the film have succumbed, but through which Ree negotiates with naïve stubbornness. Interestingly, it is perhaps due to her father's continued absence that Ree has developed her sense of self and morality (we see her teaching her siblings moral codes throughout the film) and has thus been spared from a life of servitude (at least to a male oppressor). Although the film unflinchingly portrays the harrowing ordeals Ree undergoes, her heroism at least means that she avoids the prescribed existence of her peers. As an equivalent example, Ree's friend Gail is locked in a unloving relationship and is raising a child virtually alone. Contrastingly, Ree's life with her family is permeated with moments of utter affection – and this is a status quo she will not see altered.

Along side Jennifer Lawrence – whose performance is nothing short of brilliant – a strong cast of knowns and unknowns (Deadwood's Garret Dillahunt and John Hawkes both feature) help create a believable and absorbing backdrop of characters. Granik's naturalistic directorial approach compliments the stark winter wilderness that features in the film. She builds a rhythmic relationship between character and camera that is both subtle and aesthetically alluring – literally unravelling the plot in images. Granik maintains an intimate affinity with the subjects she films, and this is hugely rewarding for the viewer - films are rarely so adoringly created.

Winter's Bone is a one of a kind film that embodies almost all the elements so often forgotten in modern film making and story telling. Devastatingly overlooked, it is a film that deserves a much greater audience.

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