Review: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Winter’s Bone (2010)

Directed by: Debra Granik | 100 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Shelley Waggener, Lauren Sweetser, Ashlee Thompson, William White, Casey MacLaren, Isaiah Stone, Valerie Richards, Beth Domann, Tate Taylor, Cody Brown

Sometimes movies send out a strong signal in the first shots and a promise that you will see something that will nail you to your seat. ‘Winter’s Bone’ is one such movie. The hyper-realistic story that unfolds takes place in an environment of ‘white-trash’, an impoverished white population in a remote mountain area. The environment looks extremely miserable, people live in trailers or wooden houses surrounded by a huge mess of scrap cars and other discarded material. Place of Performance: The Ozark Mountains. Far away from ‘law and order’, the population here has its own rules and standards. Making drugs illegal in remote shacks is a lucrative business, which many engage in. This population group distrusts (and hates) the government and its servants to the core and is closed like an oyster. ‘Talk’ carries the most severe possible penalty.

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is a young woman who has taken care of her young brother and sister. Mother is ill, father a criminal who has been in prison for years for making and selling drugs. The family is penniless, their only possession is a rickety wooden house. To get out of money worries, Ree wants to join the army because of the sign-up bonus, but she is still too young and is rejected. The situation becomes even more dire when, after a visit from the sheriff, it appears that Dad has been released on bail (without their knowledge). He gave the house as security. Because Dad has not returned from his leave, the collection agency is now going to seize and is at the door. The house is about to be sold, only a few days remain before they become homeless.

Ree sees only one option: to look for her father despite the risks involved, because she thinks he has gone into hiding in the immediate (and criminal) environment and is making drugs again. She thinks his friends are hiding him. That journey is the beginning of a journey that reveals dangerous secrets about her father and his environment. His “friends” (partly distant relatives) have a strong interest in hiding that truth and constantly threaten Ree as she gets further and further into his history and dark practices. Ree relies on family ties, but closeness and distrust dominate. Ree is told that she must stop her search if she does not want to endanger herself. It is clear that almost everyone knows what happened, but no one wants to talk, the wall of silence remains.

Finally, Ree calls on ‘Teardrop’ (John Hawkes), her father’s brother. This person is also part of the criminal environment and it is clear from the start that this is a life-threatening person, also involved in drug trafficking, and of whom you do not know whether he is helping or eventually (also) going to die. The search continues and horrifying developments follow….

Jennifer Lawrence plays a masterly role as Ree, in this morally deeply sunken environment she remains completely upright. Her portrayal is superior, but John Hawkes also plays the dark figure of Uncle Teardrop impressively. All other roles are equally convincing. The scenario does not seem artificial and the tension is carefully built up and dosed. The film has a strong soundtrack that gives an extremely strong support to the atmosphere that the film evokes. The developments full of suspense and subcutaneous tensions make the film a thriller of the highest quality. The camera work is magnificent. Violence is in no way dominant, except for a limited number of – rather suggestive – scenes. The casting is phenomenal. The threat is jumping off the ‘heads’ of the local population. The locations are strongly chosen and the natural environment is dominant in all its bareness and impoverishment.

Although the story may sound a bit ‘firm’, the film is extremely suitable for a wide audience. A compelling story about how in some environments violating the local codes can have far-reaching and inexorable consequences. Both the art house and the mainstream enthusiast will enjoy themselves here. ‘Thrilling’ and blistering, an absolute must!

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