Thursday, June 16, 2011

Winter's Bone

Directed by Debra Granik.
2010. Rated R, 100 minutes.
Jennifer Lawrence
John Hawkes
Dale Dickey
Isaiah Stone
Ashlee Thompson
Valerie Richards
Shelley Waggener
Garret Dillahunt
Ronnie Hall

At age seventeen, the weight of the world is already on Ree’s (Lawrence) shoulders. She has to take care of her two younger siblings. Her mom is catatonic, having been driven mad by Jessup, her husband and the father to her children. He, of course, is nowhere to be found. He also happens to be a known cooker of crystal meth. The local lawman stops by the house and informs Ree that Jessup has a court date coming up next week. If he doesn’t show, Ree and the family will lose their home since it was put up as collateral for his bond. She then decides to try and find him in hopes of getting him in front of the judge on time. To do so she has to go all over town, including some scary places and ask questions of some very scary people.

The first place Ree goes is to her uncle Teardrop’s (Hawkes) house. How he got that name is never explained and frankly isn’t important. What is important is that we understand he probably didn’t get it by doing something nice. He’a a tough, grimy type with a reputation that suggests he’s not to be fooled with. When he speaks, you get the unmistakable sense he means what he says. For better or worse, his wife understands this. She promptly backs off her efforts to get him to help Ree after he tells her “I’ve told you to shut up once, with my mouth.” John Hawkes plays the role perfectly, with a quiet power and barely beneath the surface insanity that makes everyone else uncomfortable. He looks every bit like Sam Elliott, only somehow more frayed around the edges and without the smirk. Teardrop is all business.

The next person Ree encounters is perhaps even more frightening than Teardrop. She runs into Merab (Dickey). She’s the wife of Thump (Hall), the local crystal meth kingpin. He sends her out to deal with Ree. Merab tries to be friendly and reason with Ree that this issue should be dropped. When that doesn’t work, things turn ugly. They get uglier when Merab’s sisters are added to the mix. Dickey’s performance is award-worthy. There’s not a moment we don’t believe her. There are plenty of times when she’s unsettling. Part of it is because it seems no matter what the situation, she has no fear and is completely matter of fact about everything. We don’t like her. She’s too strong for us.

Ree has to work with and through these people and several others to complete her mission. Completion comes in a most strange way in a wonderfully horrific scene. To her credit, the young Jennifer Lawrence holds her own in the role, and then some, even against the two powerhouse performances described above. Her portrayal requires more emotional ups, downs and outbursts than anyone else in the film. She handles them all quite well. She appears to have a very bright future. Lawrence, and the rest of the cast is helped along by some brilliant dialogue. It is a terrific blend of colloquialisms and menacing statements that build all sorts of tension. The film is shot in a perfectly bleak manner reminiscent of The Road. This has a similar feel of hopelessness. That feeling also comes through the music. Mostly sang by Marideth Sisco, who appears in one scene, its sadness about the futility of the singer’s efforts mirrors Ree in a manner we can’t deny. We hear it. We feel it. This is an excellent movie experience that is as much about the language we hear and the music we feel as it is about what we see.

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