18 September 2010
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Winter’s Bone finally made its way onto these shores. If the trailer was anything to go by, this was going to be quite bleak. And it is. One slight warning though: if you are expecting the sepia-tinged atmosphere of the trailer, you may be a little disappointed to see that the film actually has quite a few spots of bright colour and sunshine. But, the grim setting is enough to wipe the smile off of your face.
Ree Dolly (a very solid performance by Jennifer Lawrence) lives in Nowheresville, Missouri with her depressed and mute mother and two young siblings. Her father (meth lab aficionado) has been gone for a couple of weeks. But, Ree and her family set themselves up for a status quo that is enough for survivial, albeit short on comfort. Their idyllic (and I’m taking way too much liberty here in using that adjective) life is under threat once the “law” notifies them that if their father doesn’t show up for court, they will take away their home. It is up to Ree to find her father’s whereabouts, but her many relatives do not really want to help her out. Their efforts in dodging Ree from ever finding the truth soon turn ugly.
This is a grim tale, with the darkest of hearts. A film that pulls no punches in hiding every smidgen of hope from the screen. The cold (despite the ever-present sunshine) is palpable - this is as bleak an autumnal setting as you can imagine. Ree’s journey from one barely standing trailer to the next at first seem repetitive, but this sense of claustrophobia adds to the atmosphere. You can even categorise this easily as a straight horror.
All is not perfect in this dark journey, though. Sometimes the dialogue is too derivative and cliched. In one scene Ree teaches her brother and sister how to use a rifle. When her best friend asks her what they’re doing, she replies “teaching them survival”. The film certainly doesn’t need these lines to hammer home the idea that the lives of these people are pretty rough. And yes, survival is the main objective, but the events demonstrate that pretty clearly.
Winter’s Bone is a very good film, but a very dark one. The climax comes in the way of a journey at dawn on a canoe and I was this close to avert my eyes. What could have been extremely gory (and that would have been such an easy route that would have ensured commercial success), Debra Granik’s direction is mature enough to make it absolutely devastating. It is one of my favourite sequences of this year.