Movie Review: Winter's Bone (2010)

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As the primary caretaker of her twelve year old brother and six year old sister, seventeen year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) tells her brother that he should “never ask for what ought to be offered.”

Unfailingly polite despite their lot in life, this particular rule of thumb works just fine when it comes to ensuring that the Dolly children never beg or guilt others into sharing food with them. Unfortunately when it comes to tracking down Ree's estranged out-on-bond father after the law informs her that they'll lose their home if he doesn't make his court date, Ree finds herself in the unwelcome position of having to ask for information that nobody-- especially her kin – would ever think of offering.

Even though a deadly code of silence runs deep in the Missouri Ozarks, Ree is determined to break through the barrier in order to keep from handing over her siblings to neighbors the way she's had to do with the horse they can't afford to feed if the bail bondsman turns them out of their property.

Given a short deadline by authorities who haven't been able to locate Mr. Dolly themselves only to reveal that they've heard he's cooking crank again, Ree sets out with the understanding that she could be facing the end of her short life simply by knocking on the doors of her relatives and father's associates who are devoted to maintaining silence as much as Ree is adamant about keeping her family together.

The sophomore feature length effort from Down to the Bone writer/director Debra Granik, Winter's Bone which she co-scripted with Anne Rosellini and based on the book by the same name from novelist Daniel Woodrell, has earned the top festival honors at Sundance and is an early Oscar front-runner as one of the best reviewed and most acclaimed titles to release thus far in 2010.

Emotionally taut and unflinchingly authentic, admirably giving off the impression that we're witnessing real life in a land and community that feels foreign to most viewers and is depicted with intelligent objectivity instead of Hollywood stereotypes, Winter's Bone recalls Frozen River and Sling Blade in its masterful portrayal of a simple tale of courage in the unlikeliest of places.

Likewise similarly unforgettable for its beneath the surface study of gender dynamics in the Ozarks, Winter's Bone is anchored by a stunningly powerful yet subtly heartbreaking turn by Lawrence who deftly moves between dogged determination in not backing down from oppressors and maternal instincts in teaching her siblings how to cook and use a rifle in case something happens to her. Additionally it features solid turns by its supporting cast, most notably John Hawkes as Ree's conflicted Uncle Teardrop who is torn between loyalty to his brother as well as his niece.

And despite the fact that, most likely due to its rather straightforward screenplay wherein the hero has only one quest and all subplots just grow like limbs branching out from the same tree, the work does feel like it needed a few more edits in the overly long first hour, it's still an achingly powerful testament to the human spirit and one woman's will to achieve a goal not for sport but for survival.

Currently embarking on an uphill battle of its own to lure intelligent audience members away from summer escapist fare to see realistic “country noir” and discover Lawrence's Oscar worthy role, Granik's film is sure to pick up momentum as word of mouth continues to spread, reminding you that you should never have to be asked and instead ought to offer to take this particular journey into the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.