Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Winter's Bone. (2010) Debra Granik

Winter's Bone has been the talk of many film magazines and the festival circuit, earning big wins at Sundance and Berlin, and now it has finally made its way into mainstream U.S. release.

It's the story of Ree Dolly, a tough-as-nails seventeen year-old grown-up, played to perfection by Jennifer Lawrence. Ree is a native in the Ozark Mountains. She is dealing with a missing dad, a not-all-there mom, the need to keep food on the table for her younger two siblings, and a swarm of the locale's meth-makers she's constantly at odds with. The meth-makers might have something to do with her missing father, or at least know something about it. He was one of the crowd for years, in and out of jail many times.

In fact her dad has recently put the house up for a jail bond, and when he fails to show in court it looks like Ree, her mom and her siblings will have to find somewhere else to live. But they've got nowhere else they can go. The point of Ree's story becomes this: find dad, and find him fast, whether in trouble or not, dead or alive, and figure out how to make sure their home doesn't disappear.

Other than the Ozark setting, in which debate has cropped up when the film is described as an "ethnographic portrait" -- a description that turns out somewhat accurate given the otherworldly feel of the citizens in this land -- the film is actually an eerie endeavor into an otherwise modest genre exercise: the drug film. From gangster flicks like Scarface and Donnie Brasco to the spectacle of gang dealings in Menace II Society and New Jack City, you've seen some of this before, but not with such a dark mountain, almost Flannery O'Connor hypnotic-style spell. The decrepit backwoods flee-pit populace, with little to say or spare, butt heads with the moral crusade of the Sheriff's seemingly righteous (or self-righteous) law. Ree can't trust a soul from either side, and neither give details on the whereabouts of her runaway dad.

The lengths Ree goes to in tracking down her dad -- dead or alive -- for the saving of her home, and thus her mom and the children's home, too -- and her compassion and willingness in taking care of the clan in general, turn the tables from her mom's responsibility back on Ree, breaking her out of the mold of any dreams or desires of a typical teenager (or even daughter or older sister) and into the matriarchal caregiver -- she's the mom to the mom and their kids. That she's willing to enter hostile climates demanding answers from even broken blood-ties -- those who have been in the drug war with her family -- those who have shot at each other and sworn off the family name -- shows how willing she really is to go to bat for this household. She'll take a beating if need be, and even die for the salvation of the home. She becomes the aspirations and affection of a protecting mom, with an understanding beyond her years. She's full of wisdom and smarts, and a great willingness for her tribe at only the age of seventeen.

After she does go through many horrific things, one of the characters tells her he can't believe how she did it. To her, it's always been simple: "I'm a Dolly," she'll say. But given the history of the moral side of the Dollys before her, there's got to be something in her that's greater than just her blood.

With its washed out color and melancholic feel, you might seek this one out on a rainy summer night. With its Tales From the Crypt ending with a harrowing chainsaw reality, we watch as Ree the daughter and sister transcends even matriarchal interpretations, becoming a hero in the sense that only this character can bring to the situation (and the screen). Ultimately she is a one-of-a-kind, very seldom seen in cinema, a woman who gains our respect and admiration. At a moment when so many dads are missing, both in every day life and the films that reflect it, it's refreshing to find a woman who bears the soul of a loving mom.


  1. your picture makes me think of the ghost in
    Hamlet...the voice speaking the truth from beyond...

  2. Oooh, Imola. Judging from quite a few of the films you love, I'd say this film is perfect for your next New York rainy summer night.


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