Now Showing at: Esquire Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
You’ve heard me say more than once that the mark of a really good film is one that takes you someplace you’ve never been. But what if that film takes you someplace you don’t necessarily want to go? Such is the case with Winter's Bone, a new independent film that won both the best film and best screenplay prizes at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Ree is a 17-year-old who is charged with holding her family together. She lives in rural southeast Missouri, in the Ozarks with her psychologically challenged mother and two siblings, a 12-year-old brother and a 6-year-old sister. Unlike previous generations who may have been moonshiners, Ree’s daddy cooks meth and crank in remote locations. He’s just been released from jail on his latest bust, and has put up the family home and property for his bond.
The sheriff and a bail bondsman both show up on Ree’s doorstep to let her know that if daddy misses his court appearance, they will lose the home and all that goes with it. Neither agent of the long arm of the law has been able to find him, so once again, the chore falls on the shoulders of this determined, responsible young woman. She can’t allow anything that will disrupt the security of what little her family has.
Ree starts on an odyssey in search of daddy, a trek that takes her through a miasma of mysterious and menacing hill folk, most of who are relatives. Some are sympathetic to her plight, but of no help; others are downright nasty and threatening. No one wants any involvement with the law, which might disrupt the family enterprise.
The only one who shows any knowledge of anything is daddy’s only brother, Ree’s Uncle Teardrop. Teardrop doesn’t say much, but obviously knows more.
On first viewing, my initial reaction was “I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to know these people.” But another mark of a good film is one that doesn’t let go of you, and has you thinking about it for days afterward. Winter's Bone does just that.
Direction by Debra Granik is tight and interesting, with some terrific imagery. She keeps the story flowing and interest high.
The cast is spot-on in their characterizations, especially young Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence as Ree. This is a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination, as she not only has to carry the family in the story, but she carries the film as well. John Hawkes plays Teardrop in what might be called the “Harry Dean Stanton” role. He’s an unfathomable man, yet eventually approachable. And Dale Dickey as Merab, a matriarch from hell, is chilling in her portrayal. She leads Ree to a climax of discovery and recovery that you won’t soon forget.
About 12 hours after seeing Winter's Bone, it finally hit me: it’s a tale of a determined young woman on a trek to find out something that brings her in contact with many baffling, and sometimes dangerous, people. Sound familiar? Yep… it’s Alice in Wonderland. But this is no fantasy. It’s hard-core reality for some rural Americans who do what they have to do to survive, and for whom blood is much thicker than water. Although it still bleeds.
The R-rated Winter's Bone opens Friday at the Esquire Theatre. No matter your initial reaction to the film, you’ll find yourself thinking about and discussing it for weeks to come.