Summary: It’s a modern Western. More drama than thriller, it’s a grownup indie film with no pretence and lots of attitude.
The Modern Day Western
The Western is making a comeback in modern times, but has taken on a grittier edge: more hard-broiled and stoic Clint Eastwood than heroic all-American John Wayne. Just look at the Coen brother’s No Country for Old Men and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Winter’s Bone, a screen adaptation of a novel by Daniel Woodrell, and set in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri in the American Midwest, is helmed by Debra Granik, one of an increasing number of impressive female directors in the business. New Hollywood-it-girl Jennifer Lawrence plays the lead roll of Ree Dolly, a teenager who’s cast into the role of adult in a household with no responsible parents. Her mother is “catatonic from depression” (The Guardian, Winter’s Bone by Peter Bradshaw) and there’s no help to be had from her drug-dealing father. This leaves Ree alone to take care of her younger siblings, Sonny (just 12 years) and 6-year-old Ashlee.
Ree will do anything to protect those kids under her charge, including beg for scraps from neighbours. She’s good at this, scrounging as much as she can, even to get feed for a sickly horse, but all this is threatened when the local serif (played by Garret Dillahunt) comes by looking for her absent father. The serif then informs her that her father was recently in custody and posted bail using the house as colletaral. They’ll lose everything if he doesn’t show up in court in a week’s time. Ree must now go looking for her insouciant father in time to save the house and her extremely vulnerable charges.
Not one to shillyshally she sets up immediately first to beg to use an old friend’s truck. Transportation secured she starts out on her journey that will see her deal with dangerous neighbours who then get offended at her supposed meddling. There in the Ozark Mountains it seems that everyone is related to everyone else in that midwestern way and Ree brings this fact up repeatedly as she tries to procure favour from the people she knows are aware of her father’s whereabouts. But the world of drugs is a shady, complex, and dangerous one, one her father may just have met his end by. With no one seemingly willing to help her or the hungry kids she’s minding, she has no other option but to turn to Teardrop, her uncle, the brother of her father. Teardrop is one of the most violent characters ever commited to screen, and soon enough they wind up in trouble because of this violence.
But the violence is not directed only at her enemies, it’s also directed at her. We are left uncertain as to Teardrop’s agenda, not knowing whether he’ll assult his neice together with the people she’s fighting to obtain information from. All of this inevitably leads to a harrowing climax, one that will be remembered as containing a scene so graphic it will stick with you just as surely as the first time you saw the entrance of Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Who Should See this?
You should see this if you’re an indie fan. This is a bold drama, one that rightly earned the lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence, an Academy Award Best Actress nomination in 2011. But it’s also a movie to see if you’re sick of brain-dead thrillers and want something a little uncomfortable to watch but that is at the same time realistic and brawny – Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian does well in naming it a “Hillbilly-gangster-reality-noir”. This is a film that has great weight and I would definitely recommend it.
Winter’s Bone, (Production year: 2009), directed by Debra Granik, The Guardian, Winter’s Bone by Peter Bradshaw, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), directed by Tobe Hooper, No country for Old Men, directed by Joel Coen (2007)