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SLIFF 2010 Review: WINTER’S BONE

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SXSW Review originally published on March 20, 2010.

WINTER’S BONE, quite possibly, is one of the top five best films to see in 2010. Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, the film is co-written and directed by Debra Granik, a New Yorker who has taken great care in meticulously ensuring an authentic and honest portrayal of the Ozarks region of Missouri, the people and culture and the struggle beset upon the impoverished families.

Jennifer Lawrence (THE BURNING PLAIN) plays Ree Dolly, a resourceful and determined 17-year old girl living in the rural Ozarks, caring for her sick mother and two younger siblings. The Dolly family has a history with the law, a reputation Ree wants no part of as she takes care of her family in the absence of her father. The dilemma for Ree is that her father placed their small house and land up as collateral for bail and if he doesn’t show up for court Ree and her family will lose what little they have.

Debra Granik (DOWN TO THE BONE) sticks surprisingly close to Woodrell’s book, capturing the details of life in the Ozarks with amazing accuracy. The language, the relationships, the traditions… its all there to illustrate for audiences the fully encompassing picture of what life can be like in the region. Granik maintains an emotional and suspenseful razor’s edge throughout the film as we follow Ree through her desperately fearless quest to find her father before its too late. On this journey, we’re introduced to hardship, the scope of family ties and the devastating yet unfortunate necessity that homemade meth labs have grown to play in the lives of some Ozark families.

Filmed using a RED One Camera, WINTER”S BONE is an indie film that features HD quality cinematography from Michael McDonough (DIGGERS, QUID PRO QUO) while also maintaining a brilliantly cinematic feel. The images appear as though shot on film, allowing the texture of the wooded setting and the earthy tones of the otherwise gray and brown land and sky to pop with depth and detail.

Lawrence delivers an outstanding performance as Ree, a young woman driven by her moral compass and sense of duty to her family. Ree persists in her efforts to find her father, despite warnings from family and neighbors not to pursue this dangerous inquiry. WINTER’S BONE presents a conundrum for Ree, relying cautiously on the same family ties as are putting her in danger. The existence of meth labs and trade as income is no secret, but to pursue her father is synonymous with Ree exposing their secrets in an unwelcome way.

The intensity given on screen by Jennifer Lawrence is matched only by the frightening performance from John Hawkes (DEADWOOD, AMERICAN GANGSTER) as Teardrop, Ree’s uncle and brother to her father. Teardrop is a strong and intimidating character, one that few of the locals dare scrap with, but Hawkes manages to also fully envelope the softer side of Teardrop buried deep within himself, a connection to his family responsibility that slowly forces its way up to the surface.

While WINTER’S BONE is an entirely different movie from O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, traditional music from the region plays a crucial role in the film in much the same way, setting the place and tone of the story. The incredibly beautiful folk and bluegrass music in WINTER’S BONE digs deep into the soul of the audience. The film features original music by Dickon Hinchliffe (COLD SOULS) and a mesmerizing onscreen performance by Marideth Sisco as a participant in a group pickin’ session that Ree encounters.

Overall, WINTER’S BONE is a powerfully dramatic story that plays in a subtle enough fashion to maintain its realism. The story evokes mystery, placing Ree in the role of the meddling detective, while Teardrop takes on the veil of the anti-hero. There’s a clear parallel to classic film noir structure without becoming cliché. The dynamics of the characters throughout the film are well played, admirable considering many of the characters onscreen are non-actor locals. WINTER’S BONE is a film that can be enjoyed and appreciated by all, a sincere telling account of real life ordeals.

WINTER’S BONE will play during the 19th Annual Stella Artois St. Louis International Film Festival on Sunday, November 14th at 7:00 pm at Brown Hall on the Washington University campus.

Hopeless film enthusiast; reborn comic book geek; artist; collector; cookie connoisseur; curious to no end

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