Winter's Bone Review

The phrase “close-knit community” normally has quite positive, friendly connotations, but the folk portrayed in Winter’s Bone could scarcely be less welcoming to their neighbours, let alone outsiders. Set in the Ozarks in central USA and based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, these wooded highlands are apparently populated by the sort of tough, impoverished wretches that trailer park trash would cross the road to avoid. Even the local police dare not linger too long. The frosty welcomes of the residents who scratch a living from the land mirrors the bleak winter weather that suppresses any sign of natural life.

In this barren world, seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is just about managing to look after her drug-addled mother as well as her younger brother and sister. With barely enough money to feed the family, news reaches her that her jailbird father has absconded after putting their house up for his bail bond - not exactly music to Ree’s ears. In order to avoid being thrown out in to the woods, she sets off to find him. But the local residents don’t want to have anything to do with her, either feigning ignorance or threatening her for poking her nose in to other people’s business (and those are the kinder reactions).



Ree’s journey as she obstinately refuses to take no for an answer eventually lands her in trouble, and director Debra Granik beautifully builds the atmosphere and suspense. Almost every house seems to be hiding a secret, and the threat of violence and retribution hovers in the air. It might sound oppressively miserablist, given the stark characters and environment, but Winter’s Bone does have a warm beating heart in its lead role, played with credible grit and determination by Jennifer Lawrence in what is surely a star-making performance. A born survivor if ever there was one, Ree’s ambition to join the army is cut short when she is told she is too young to sign up – the only time she seems genuinely defeated.

Winter’s Bone utilises elements from both the horror and thriller genres, yet doesn’t quite fit either category. It has the backwoods suspicion and terror of films like Deliverance, but when the violence does come it is neither graphic nor sensationalist, instead favouring the ‘less is more’ approach. The story is too low-key to be considered a thriller, yet the climax of Ree’s quest is a nerve-wracking affair as she finally learns the fate of her father. Given the paucity of decent horrors or thrillers so far this year, it is odd that a film which is neither should beat them at their own game.



The family drama that runs parallel to the search for her father is equally compelling. With time running out before they are evicted, Ree’s neighbours offer to take in and raise her younger brother - but not her sister, whose parentage is called in to question. Her vitriolic reaction to the idea of her family being separated is powerful and affecting. Though she is only 17 she is clearly the head of the family now, and will do anything to stop it falling apart, even at the expense of her own hopes and ambitions. Sympathetic yet doughty and resourceful, it is obvious why Lawrence is being hotly tipped for an Oscar nomination in the coming months.

The supporting cast are equally fine, all delivering mature, naturalistic performances. There’s no real villain to speak of, only characters with a darker shade of grey, so there's no room for cartoon villainy or scene-stealing - evidence of a director who understands and is in complete control of the story. It all adds up to a haunting but beautifully sketched drama that deserves to reach a wide audience.

Overall

9

out of 10

Last updated: 06/06/2018 14:07:37

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