Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Movie with Abe: Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone
Directed by Debra Granik
Released June 11, 2010

Summer is a great time to come across independent gems which roll out slowly in extremely limited release before expanding to more markets once they garner critical praise and begin to pick up year-end accolades. The past few years have produced great films by female directors, including “Frozen River” from Courtney Hunt and “The Hurt Locker” from Kathryn Bigelow. This summer features just as fortuitous a find: “Winter’s Bone” from director Debra Granik, who previously made “Down to the Bone,” which was actress Vera Farmiga’s breakout film. Following a select openings in a number of cities, this surprising gem is rolling out in theatres cross the country all this month.

“Winter’s Bone” begs comparison to “Frozen River” for a number of reasons. Both are set in the dead of winter but released in the summer, which makes the experience of seeing them all the more powerful. Both Ray in “Frozen River” and Ree in “Winter’s Bone” are de facto single parents, struggling to raise their children while barely having any more resources than they do. Ree has it even harder, since they aren’t even her children, but rather her siblings. Her very ill mother and absent criminal father have left her in charge, and Ree has to act much older than her age simply because of the situation in which she’s been put. When she learns that her home will be seized if her recently released convict father does not show up for his court date, she begins a bold and fearsome search for him.

The most impressive aspect of “Winter’s Bone,” like “Frozen River” before it, is its fierce breakout lead female performance. Nineteen-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, whose resume up until this point includes little more than “The Bill Engvall Show,” turns in a masterful performance as the brave and outwardly callous Ree. It’s one of the instances where having an actress actually play her age (roughly) proves to be an exceptional decision. While she is the unquestionable discovery of the film, there are a number of fine, powerful supporting turns to be found in it. John Hawkes, most recently seen on “Lost” and “Eastbound & Down” is completely unrecognizable and terrifying as Ree’s uncle Teardrop, and former Cromartie Terminator Garret Dillahunt does a commendable job of crafting an uncertain and unsettling portrait of the law in rural Missouri.

“Winter’s Bone” is a film with remarkably few characters that exists within a very narrow universe. Making that small world feel realistic is a difficult task, yet Granik, Lawrence, and crew succeed with ease. The movie is suspenseful but not excessively so, and more unnerving and disturbing than anything else. This is a prime example of a bleak movie that still manages to be extraordinarily effective. If subsequent summers continue to produce films like this and showcase emerging talent like Lawrence, the future of independent cinema of the next decade looks bright.


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