The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as seventeen year old Ree Dolly who sets out on a mission to locate her father after he uses their family house as a way of securing his bail and then disappears without a trace. Faced with the probability of losing her home and her young brother and sister, Ree challenges the code of silence of her relatives and risks her life to save her family in finding her elusive father. Ree suffers through the lies, evasions and threats from her relatives and struggles to piece together the truth and bring her father in before her house is taken.
The first thing that stands out from watching Winter’s Bone is the performance from Jennifer Lawrence. If I could choose the best female actress Oscar right now I would give her the statue without a second thought. Lawrence completely makes the film, she takes Ree on an emotional journey that is absolutely fascinating to watch and elevates Winter’s Bone from being a gritty thriller to an incredible coming of age film that delves into the poverty of people and the relationships of family in the bleak and miserable mountains of Southern Missouri. I’ve never seen a film like it or witnessed such a strong, unexpected performance that made me believe in everything I was seeing.
John Hawkes also shines with his performance as Teardrop, Ree’s Uncle. His character is used to perfection with notable key contributions in Ree’s search. He seems to know more than he lets on but also seems to have a hidden agenda as to what is going on within the family and it plays out magnificently. Using his truly terrifying stare and persona that has you on edge, one particular scene, a stand off with a local cop at night only making eye contact through his wing mirror of his car, is incredibly tense and just so good; subtly revealing his true character which never gets fully explored as this is Ree’s story, but which makes him even more fascinating and for such a short amount of screen time his character has a real sense of depth and back story.
The pacing of the film is quite slow and will bore some and no doubt irritate others with its low budget production, however those that can appreciate the film’s gritty, realistic and slow burning bleak story will be in for a treat. Patience is required for the film to reveal where it’s going and it takes time introducing the key characters of the film, characters that made me feel uncomfortable watching if not by what they say then by their physical appearance and their horrible contribution to Ree’s frustrating and dangerous search. They all add a real sense of frustration, menace and obstacle to her finding her father in time.
Winter’s Bone has a very natural feel which comes from being shot on location in a town called Branson in Missouri and features local people (apparently playing themselves) mixed with actors that gives it an almost documentary feel to it. The characters all feel chillingly genuine and look the part with meth usage being central to the story there is a heavy presence of its usage to their features and behaviour (fans of Breaking Bad will recognise Dale Dickey being a bit typecast) so don’t expect anything too pretty to attract the eye.
When the film reaches its chilling climax , with one of the most satisfying and unexpected conclusions of a film I’ve seen in years, you realise what a journey you’ve been on as everything fits into place and characters motives are revealed. It works perfectly.
It’s a stunning film for all the right reasons but I doubt it will get the promotion it deserves to give it the audience it deserves but I really do encourage everyone to see this film, there’s certainly nothing else out this week in the cinemas better than Winter’s Bone, and there will be few films out this year to top it. Highly recommended.
Winter’s Bone is released on Friday 17th September.