Ree's Southern Discomfort
"Winter's Bone" is the sort of movie I love because it takes a storyline which would easily make for a mainstream movie but delivers it in a non mainstream way making it gripping and entertaining in a very different sort of way. That storyline features a 17 year old daughter who is already mother to her sister and brother go on the trail of her absent, criminal father as if she can't find him they will lose the home that he has put up as bond. But what makes "Winter's Bone" interesting is the relenting, cold realism shunning big action and machismo for what feels real and strangely horrifying for being so.
At 17 Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) not only looks after her little sister and brother but also their chronically depressed mother whilst trying to keep things going at the hut they call home with help from the neighbours and friends. But when Ree discovers her father has put up their home as bond and has gone missing she tries to track him or find his body before they lose what little they have. But the Ozark Mountain's are an unforgiving place no matter if everyone is kin of some sort or another and Ree soon learns that if anyone knows as to where her father is they are not going to tell.
The storyline to "Winter's Bone" is simple there is no denying that but director Debra Granik gives us such a bleak, grim looking movie that this simple story becomes fascinating. You become fascinated by this code of silence and fear which runs through the families on the mountain where even those closely related would rather not become involved because of bad blood. And so as we watch the tough cookie Ree confront those who may know you wonder not so much whether she will find out but whether she will leave a confrontation alive as that feeling of bad blood fills the air.
Now what this means is that firstly "Winter's Bone" is all about Ree and her fearless nature and Jennifer Lawrence is stunning throughout the movie. There is a sense of authenticity in the quiet way she goes from hut to hut looking for answers, saying what she needs, taking no shit but never going macho on anyone other than those who show up at her home. It is because Lawrence is so believable as Ree be it skinning a squirrel or challenging those closer members of the family that the detail of who is related to who and how never becomes an issue. In fact this ambiguity over the fact that everyone seems to be kin of some sorts makes for a more interesting arena.
But whilst we have this focus on Ree and what she goes through not out of love for her father but to protect her brother and sister we do wonder how grim it will get. As I said earlier the sense of bad blood fills the air and when despite being told not to she tries to speak to a senior member of the Milton family you wonder whether she is going to end up being silenced for poking her nose in. And that is nothing compared to how this story plays out delivering a surprising and powerful series of scenes to end the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Winter's Bone" is a wonderful, grim, yet entertaining movie which gets you in its grasp early on and doesn't let go. Yet it does so with no mainstream elements but a simple story, a well written characters and a brilliant performance from Jennifer Lawrence.