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Winter's Bone

"Winter's Bone" shook me more than any film I’ve seen in recent memory. It's about the
Missouri Ozarks and a teenage girl named Ree who’s a fish in that water, played by
Jennifer Lawrence in a really good, natural performance. Responsible for taking care of
her little brother and sister and her mentally ill mother, she must hunt down her meth-
cooking, bail-jumping daddy before the court seizes their home.

The underground drug economy seems to be just about the only industry going in the
Ozarks, and all of Ree’s kin subsist off it to more and less tangential degrees. These
people are as volatile as the chemicals they cook, should you happen to nose into their
business looking for your missing father. They consume pills and powders as a matter of
routine, simply as a way of escaping the dreariness of everyday reality.   (Though she's
constantly being offered, Ree doesn't partake; maybe when you're not sheltered, drugs
lose their allure.)  

John Hawkes gives a nuanced performance as Ree’s rawboned uncle, Teardrop, a truly
dangerous man. Once he realizes that Ree, though scared and unsure of herself, is not
going to stop until they kill her, we come to see him as an interesting mix of menace and
protector, an unsettling upholder of the family ties that bind.

It’s a cold world that writer/director Debra Granik (adapting one of Daniel Woodrell’s
“country noir” novels) gives us, yet there are oases of warmth.   Ree comes upon a
birthday party where the men and women are celebrating by singing and playing
mountain music: the scene plays like a glimpse into a pocket of community that meth
hasn’t yet dissolved.   (In an organic way the film is a trenchant look at male/female social
relations in the Ozarks.   The meth men use at least the tacit threat of violence to control
their women, but Ree doesn't seem to have ever developed the instinct the other women
have of knowing just how far to prod their men and no further.)    

By the way, if you get a chance you’ve got to check out Granik’s last feature, “Down to
the Bone”, in which Vera Farmiga plays a cokehead working mom.   Farmiga gives a
performance that’s close to perfect.

Rating: **** 

Key to ratings:

***** (essential viewing)
**** (excellent)
*** (worth a look)
** (forgettable)
* (rubbish!!)

- Aug 4, 2010

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