Sundance Review: WINTER’S BONE – We Are Movie Geeks

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Sundance Review: WINTER’S BONE

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The amount that goes unspoken in WINTER’S BONE, the new film from Debra Granik (DOWN TO THE BONE), is vast.  A sort of film noir set in poverty stricken, rural Missouri, the film is a true powerhouse of emotion, thrilling and daring in all the right places and trimmed through and through with top-notch performances.

Leading the charge in those performances is Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, a young girl whose mother is mentally devoid, whose siblings are too young to fend for themselves, and whose father is a drug dealer who has gone missing.  After the father misses a court date, Ree is visited by first the local sheriff, played by Garret Dillahunt, and then a bounty hunter.  She is informed that if her father is not found, alive or dead, within a week, she and her family will lose their home.  And so begins a quest throughout the community, as Ree goes from distant relative to distant relative (they’re all pretty much cousins here) in search for answers behind her father’s disappearance.  She uncovers secrets about the community and the consequences of her and other’s actions.

First and foremost, Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in this film.  At only 19, she commands her role with subtle nuances and absolute dominance.  She fills the role of a young girl who has long since been forced to grow into the head of her household, and she does so masterfully.  She had a small role last year in THE BURNING PLAIN, quite a forgettable movie, but it appears her career is about to soar.  Take note of her name, because, just as she is a force in this film, she is sure to be a force in the industry in the coming years.

Granik’s screenplay, co-written by Anne Rosellini and based on the novel from Daniel Woodrell, moves like a Dashiell Hammett novel complete with nefarious and eccentric characters, as Ree goes about her investigation.  The pacing is impeccable.  The structure of the film is anything but loose, and there is quite enough character development in the early moments so that, once things become violent, there is a real sense of foreboding danger for Ree and her family.  Granik is bold enough to include Ree in every scene, and the casting process must have been arduous to say the very least.  With Lawrence, Granik found her Ree, and the two mold the character together into one of the strongest female leads in recent memory.

Filling the gap of the femme fatale is John Hawkes as Teardrop, Ree’s uncle who may or may not be involved in her father’s disappearance.  Hawkes dominates his role, filling the ambiguity bag with equal parts of scariness and sincerity.  Early in the film, Hawkes delivers a threatening line that is both remarkably written and shockingly expressed, and that alone elicits such a sense of terror from this character that you move back a bit in your seat.  He and Lawrence play off of each other wonderfully, as well, and the level of talent at work in the scenes where Ree and Teardrop are together is flat out astonishing.

Paced like a moving journey of discovery through the rural backwoods of Missouri, WINTER’S BONE hits all the right marks, chilling when it needs to be and vastly superior in terms of surprises than many recent attempts at film noir (BRICK is not included in that statement).  Everyone at work here is at the top of their game, and Lawrence and Hawkes serve as true standouts who, if promoted correctly, should be garnering some awards buzz in early 2011.  WINTER’S BONE is remarkable, and it stands as a riveting portrayal of one, young girl’s tread through dangerous waters.  I cannot imagine seeing a greater film at Sundance.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars