Review: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Director: 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 films already send a strong signal in the first shots and a promise that you will see something that will nail you to your chair. “Winter’s Bone” is such a movie. The hyper-realistic story that unfolds is set 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 action: the Ozark mountain area. Far away from law and order, the population here has its own rules and standards. Making drugs illegal in remote huts is a lucrative business that many people are involved in. This population group distrusts (and hates) the government and its servants to the bone and is closed like an oyster. The worst punishment is “talking”.

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 making and selling drugs for years. The family is very poor, their only possession is a rickety wooden house. To get out of the 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 by the sheriff it turns out that Dad (without their knowledge) has been released on bail. He has given the house as a surety. Because Dad has not returned from his leave, the collection agency is now going to impound and is at the door. Sale of the house is imminent, only a few days remain before they become homeless.

Ree sees only one possibility: despite the associated risks, she goes looking for her father 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 start of a journey that reveals dangerous secrets about her father and his environment. His “friends” (some distant family) have a great interest in hiding that truth and constantly threaten Ree as she progresses further into his history and dark practices. Ree relies on family ties, but closeness and distrust predominate. Ree is told that she must stop her search if she does not want to be in great danger herself. It is clear that almost everyone knows what happened, but no one wants to talk, the wall of silence remains.

Eventually, Ree appeals to “Teardrop” (John Hawkes), a brother of her father. This one is also in the criminal environment and it is already 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 will help or you will eventually (also) die. The search continues and chilling developments follow….

Jennifer Lawrence plays a magical role as Ree, in this morally deeply sunken environment she remains fully standing. Her rendition is superior, but John Hawkes also plays the dark figure of Uncle Teardrop impressively. All other roles are equally convincing. The scenario does not look 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 hidden tensions make the film a thriller of high quality. The camera work is magnificent. Violence is in no way predominant, except for a limited number of – rather suggestive – scenes. The casting is phenomenal. The threat is splashing off the “heads” of the local population. The locations are strongly chosen and the natural environment is dominant in all its baldness and impoverishment.

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

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