Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Winter's Bone: Grade A


Winter’s Bone (2010)

Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garrett Dillahunt; Co-writer and Director Debra Granik.

This is a dark, depressing story of a seventeen-year-old woman (Lawrence) living in abject poverty in the Ozarks. Her mother is mentally ill, on meds, so the girl tries to raise her two young siblings.

The father has been arrested on a drugs charge. The sheriff (Dillahunt) tells her the father put the property up to make bail, and if he doesn’t appear in court next week, they will lose the house. She vows to find him before that happens, but everywhere she goes, hostile neighbors and relatives tell her to butt out.

Her scrawny, coke-snorting older brother (Hawkes) reluctantly investigates and reports that their father is dead. But unless she can produce the body, there is no proof and the house will be lost anyway. She asks everyone, but only succeeds in getting herself beat up.

Acting is very strong by these unknown (to me) players, and the movie is well-made and well-directed. The basic story line is not tremendously compelling (save the farm), but that weakness is more than compensated by the strong sense of place.

Scenery, sets, and costumes are on pitch, and we feel the cold dirt, the grime, the hunger, poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness of the people. Actually the sets are overdone. In their zeal to project squalor, the set designers overexaggerated. Unpainted wooden houses are in ill-repair, outbuildings are in ruins, roofs collapsing, mildew covering the walls. The winter trees are bare, the ground is frozen, the air is blue, and every house has a rubbish fire burning in a steel barrel, sending dirty smoke onto pathetically worn clothing hanging on a line. Every house has empty or partly empty five-gallon plastic buckets lying around multiple derelict vehicles.

It is all too much. These cliches are interesting at first, but strain credulity with repetition. Grungy costumes have the same effect: they’re good, but relentless.

But these are minor flaws. Despite the weak and slow-paced story, strong acting and interesting visuals make this movie linger in your mind for days.

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