Every year at the Oscars, there is a film that surfaces that does not have a lot of fanfare, a lot of the recognition and celebration that many of the other films have; they lack big names, recognizable faces, and the immense resources of other films – instead relying on the talent of a combination of the production team, director, writers and actors. Last year, that film was “An Education”; This year, it is “Winter’s Bone”
The story comes from a 2006 novel of the same title, a cold and desolate name with a lonely, cold mystery at its heart. Written with the rural Midwest in mind, it is based on the tight knit circle of people who make Meth, and a girl that is an outsider trying to track down her father. Without knowing where to go, or who to turn to and trust, she aimlessly searches for the truth. Adapted for the screen, this tale is shot by award winning director Debra Granik, who has already won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance in 2010 for this film.
Granik shoots this film in a cold, dark way – leaving the subject matter feeling even colder. The film truly has an isolated feel, partially because of the subject matter, partially because of the independent feel of the film itself. The isolationism of the film as combined with the blue-gray skies of a rural winter in Missouri makes this film feel colder then it actually is. The talents of Ms. Granik combine well with the subject matter, leaving one feeling empathy for the main character yet detached from her as well.
That character, Ree Dolly (as played by Jennifer Lawrence) has the innocence of a 17 year old but the stand-offish quality of the head of a family with little to no support. This type of existence coupled with the knowledge and experience of a family member actively pursuing the production of Meth creates quite a sad, yet driven individual. Her performance is breakout, and poignant, but not quite ready for an Oscar.
The flip side of this is Ree’s Uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes) the standoffish, embittered Brother to the lost Dolly. His character – though never quite showing his soft side – does show more range then I gave John Hawkes credit for. His dark, brooding sense is the antithesis of Ree, yet he shows enough compassion and protection over her to keep her from serious trouble, which seems to be lurking around each corner for her.
As a whole, this film is a jumping off point for many careers; for Jennifer Lawrence and Debra Granik, it is a move into the ventures of film that come with a bright future. For John Hawkes, it is a show of range and depth not previously seen or experienced. Whether this wins an Oscar or not, its principle devices have been made – a good film that improve and brings out the best of all involved.
Up Next: Rabbit Hole