Set in a rural community where the local industry is brewing Crystal Meth, Winter’s Bone looks at the lengths to which a young girl will go to in order to keep her family together. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 17 year-old who must take care of her two younger siblings as well as her mother who is ill. Cash is tight, and food is slim, but somehow Ree manages to maintain a resemblance of a somewhat stable home. Unfortunately Ree’s hard work is about to go up in smoke when she learns that her father has put the house up as collateral for his bail. If he does not show up for his court hearing, the entire family will be homeless. Despite stern warnings from her father’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes), and others in the community Ree is determined to track down her father at all cost. Yet the more Ree inquires about her father’s whereabouts, the more danger she puts herself and her family in.
Winter’s Bone is not a flashy movie but its simplicity is what makes it so captivating. Setting the film in the confines of a small community allows the film to evoke an eerie tone that only amplifies the gripping script. The one thing that is immediately noticeable is how the area in which Ree lives has its own set of unwritten laws and hierarchy. These rules supersede anything that the government institutes. Even local officers, such as Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahun), know that they are mere pawns in the grand scheme of things.
This is a region where the men set the standards and the women are meant to follow obediently. Those who go against the code, regardless of age or sex, will be dealt with in a cruel manner. This is why Ree is such a fascinating character. Despite her youth, she carries the determination and wisdom of a woman far beyond her years. The independence that she has gained from having to raise her family has opened her eyes to the follies of the area in which she lives. Unlike most, Ree believes that family is more important than any code. This is a lesson that Teardrop and others in her family have forgotten.
Although the town in which Winter’s Bone takes place is run by men, it is women who make this film such a success. Whether it is Granik’s subtle nuances with her use of colour, or the way she interjects moments of calm (such as the musical birthday celebration) amongst all the grim tension. Granik is clearly a director who I am looking forward to seeing more from in the future. I also cannot forget the phenomenal performances from both Jennifer Lawrence and Dale Dickey. Jennifer Lawrence gives one of the best performances of the year in this film. She conveys a maturity and understanding of her craft few actresses show so earlier in their careers. Winter’s Bone lives and dies on the believability of Ree’s character, and Lawrence successfully rises to the challenge. While Dale Dickey only has a small role in the film, she manages to bring a complex mix of menacing anger and compassion to the role of Merab. Bounded by the code, Merab does not initially want to inflict pain on Ree, yet she will not hesitate for a minute if she is called to do so. Is Merab a villain or merely a victim of circumstance? This is the question that the audience will be wrestling with long after the screening is over.
Winter’s Bone is garnering a lot of notice on the award circuit and rightfully so. It is one of the best films you will see this year. While it may not have the flashiness of The Social Network, or the star power of Inception, it is a film that should not be missed. Go out and rent this film as soon as possible.