Winter's Bone


Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

Winter's Bone
"An unrelenting, yet utterly mesmerising cinematic vision."

Is this the film of Sundance 2010? Winter’s Bone certainly thinks so, though it's not screaming it from the rafters. This is a far more subtle, poetic thing. A cinematic expression of the season as a living being. A creature that has had its skin and sinew picked clean by the parasites that live in the unforgiving and isolated Ozark Mountain region of its body.

In a shack that threatens to fall down around her ears we meet 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence). Tasked with cooking, cleaning, feeding and caring for her younger siblings, she is thrust into her own brutal rite-of-passage when her drug dealing absentee father, Jessop, skips bail. Unless she can bring him in to face charges, her family stands to lose their home and livelihood. So she sets off to pick up a trail that leads her up the mountain and smack up against an unspoken code that lives thick in the blood of a people that act like some retributive Old Testament tribe.

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It’s blood that ties everyone together, but don’t for a minute think this will lead us to some moment of healing between father and daughter. Jessop is a man seen or spoken of in fragments. None of them good or remembered with fondness. A bullet from a feud; a liquor bottle; a burned out meth lab; a traumatised wife that can barely lift a finger to help her kids. A terrible violence surrounds him, and by connection, Ree. You know this will not be a good end when gentle acts are confronted by great menace and a little girl must become bounty hunter if she wants her family to survive. A cowgirl in a Carhartt jacket, if you will.

It’s a role that Lawrence fills perfectly. Blessed with an astonishing maturity, beauty, strong shoulders and a piercing tongue, this is a remarkable performance. A breakout. And she’s not alone. John Hawkes is terrifying as Ree’s uncle Tear Drop, a man of lithe muscularity and riven with tattoos that look like ancient sigils screaming: "Stay. The Fuck. Away." Together they make for an interesting twist on the Western genre. Tear Drop is, initially the boogie man, threatening and assaulting. Later he’s the enforcer sidekick. The man who can stare down a cop in a stand-off shot through the rear view mirror of a truck, yet is fated, as his final line so poignantly suggests, to suffer the same bloody fate as his brother.

You feel the film channelling the sprit of Cormac McCarthy. The dialogue sparse, clipped, lyrical. Sending signals along the pulsing, ominous strings on the soundtrack So much so it wouldn’t surprise me if director Granik was offered his masterwork Blood Meridian off the back of this work. They’re that good a match.

A rich vein of vibrant, vital detail is tapped with masterful precision and stark beauty. Such as a tooth, the result of a vicious tribal punishment, that is dropped into a jar of water, giving off blood trails in its wake like roots from a strange fruit, attempting to sprout. An unlikely occurrence in this barren landscape of scab-ash ground and woods that swallow up everything but the crack of gunshots. And yet a gift from Tear Drop, the ominous tribal regulator, and brother to Jessop, gives us hope. A pair of baby chicks, blazing like sun fire in the hands of Rhea’s younger brother. It’s a small sign of life in this unrelenting, yet utterly mesmerising cinematic vision.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2010
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An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact.
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Director: Debra Granik

Writer: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, Daniel Woodrell

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Kevin Breznahan, Isaiah Stone, Shelley Waggener, Ashlee Thompson, William White, Casey MacLaren, Valerie Richards, Beth Domann, Tate Taylor, Cody Brown, Ronnie Hall, Sheryl Lee

Year: 2010

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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