Following in the tradition of films such as Paranoid Park and Frozen River, at least in terms of overall tone and filming, Winter’s Bone is a movie that makes its mark in the art of compelling storytelling. Right now to think of many movies out in theaters that are better is a difficult feat, for very few are able to grab and pull you into their world.
Winter’s Bone, directed by Debra Granik, tells the story of 17 year old Ree Dolly, who after her drug-dealing father goes missing, must undertake a quest to find him in order to make sure her family manages to stick together. Of course things do not go as planned and each step closer leads Ree into more and more danger as people simply don’t want her poking her nose into matters they feel do not concern her. What follows is one of the more intriguing and downright wonderful story lines that I have had the pleasure of observing for quite some time.
Newcomer actress Jennifer Lawrence takes the part of Ree Dolly and plays the roll of a no-nonsense Ozark Mountain girl with startling power. Lawrence hasn’t been that long within the acting community, but after the performance she gives here, you’d think she had been acting since the dawn of time. The rest of the cast are a bunch of individuals who are also lesser known actors and actresses, but they all carry their weight excellently. What made every charcter so stunning was that they were entirely beleiveable. While watching these people on the big screen, if I didn’t know any better, I could have been entirely convinced that I was watching an actual event as it was unfolding. They are all that good. Notably, actor John Hawkes, playing Teardrop, Ree’s badass and scary as all hell uncle, the man who no one wants on their bad side, including the police. Hawkes is a treat and his performance is nothing short of excellent. In my opinion, he helped to make the movie, carrying himself with animal strength, revealing to the audience that there are people in the world who you do not want to meet; Teardrop is such a person.
One of the elements that makes Winter’s Bone immensely entertaining is its simpleness. There is a distinct amount of realism throughout the movie and it becomes clear that situations such as are presented to the audience really do occur. The down-to-earth feel makes the movie all the more engrossing, well, that and the screenplay. The suspense in Winter’s Bone is more captivating than I thought it would be; there aren’t any “boo!” moments, but you’re always wondering if there will be one. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the movie is its revelation of how dangerous people are. Guts and courage are all fine and dandy, but in the real world they only get you so far. You have to be careful who you talk to and how you talk to them or else risk being submersed in a struggle that you’re not prepared to win.
If you really want to be a stickler then you can put Winter’s Bone under the genre of Country Noir, obtaining the sense you’ve entered a very mysterious world. What I forgot to mention earlier, something that deserves being noted, is the terror in the fact that despite all the roughness and peril Ree continually finds herself in, this is just another day for her small community. These sorts of things happen all the time and they are not going to stop anytime soon; this is everyday life to them. I find that mind blowing.