A chillingly atmospheric Southern Gothic thriller set in the Ozark Mountain region of Missouri, Winter’s Bone deals with a sort of hillbilly justice.
Winter’s Bone features a sensational performance from relative newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, who plays 17 year old Ree Dolly, who has to care for her sick mother and two younger siblings. Her absentee father is a methamphetamine dealer who has been released from prison on bail. But if he fails to show up to court in a week’s time, then Ree and her family will lose the house, which was put up as collateral for his bond. As his fate will determine her future, Ree starts looking for him and asking questions in dangerous places. But there are a number of locals who don’t want questions asked, and who are prepared to go to brutal lengths to stop her. Ree’s quest leads her into the criminal subculture of this backwoods community filled with secrets and lies.
In going against the unspoken rules of this patriarchal society, Ree finds herself in danger. Blood may be thicker than water, but here family ties and loyalty only go so far. Adapted from the novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone is the second film from director Debra Granik (Down To The Bone). Granik makes good use of low budget by shooting on location in the Ozarks, which lends an authenticity to the film.
Granik has filmed in a semi-documentary, natural style. Regular cinematographer Michael McDonough captures evocative and poetic images that beautifully enrich this stark wintry drama. Granik paints a grim portrait of this backwoods white trash community, which inherently distrusts outsiders, and views everyone, even family, with suspicion. It may not be Deliverance country, but there is still a palpable air of suspicion and menace just beneath the surface. The film captures the impoverished life style, and the back yards filled with junk. A soundtrack of traditional country music is also deeply evocative of place.
Granik also develops empathy for her tough, determined and resilient protagonist. Lawrence is excellent, and projects strength and determination. John Hawkes (from Deadwood, etc) is also very good, and menacing in his role as her uncle Teardrop.