Winter's Bone is a film that would have passed me by had it not been for it being mentioned on the Screenedcast.While I generally try to keep up to date on most releases, I had not heard a thing about this film until it was mentioned, and even then I did not rush out to see it but at least I was know aware of it. Well when I saw it cheap in the supermarket the other day and I picked it up and I must say I am extremely glad I did.
The story follows Ree Dolly as she goes about her life looking after her younger brother and sister, as well as her sick mother with very little help from anyone around her. One day she receives a visit from the local sheriff who is looking for her father, who has not been seen for several weeks. He explains to Ree that if he does not show up to his court date then their family home was put down for his bail bond and they will thus loose their home. Ree has no choice but to try and find her father before the family becomes homeless, but at every turn she meets a wall where know one is willing to help.
Put simply the film is a bleak and harrowing look at the life of its lead character. Debra Granik does a great job in crafting a suspense filled mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat and once it starts it grabs your attention and never lets it go. The film is well shot and it easily conveys the sense that Ree is fighting an uphill battle to find her father, and also the sense of cold here the film is set. While there is not any particularly flashy camera work in operation, Granik picks her shots well and superbly sets the scene for the films confrontations and clues. The level of suspense shown is easily on a similar level to that seen in Hurt Locker however with a much different subject. Easily my favorite scene involves the sheriff stopping a truck and speaking with Teardrop.
While the film my at first sight appear to be a character study of Ree, I found the mystery of here is her father far more entertaining. While I will not go into spoilers, following Ree as she begins to put things together was a joy to watch and reminded me slightly of Brick. It does not treat the viewer as stupid and credits them with being able to follow what is going on with little explanation. The mystery is well put together and gripping as each new element is uncovered.
While the above are solid reasons to see the film, where it really sets itself above other films is the lead performance of Jennifer Lawrence, and the supporting role of John Hawkes as Teardrop. Lawrence was throughly deserving of her Oscar nomination for this role, she is strong and independent but also tied down with her family while she wants to leave and better her life. She may have lost the Oscar to Natalie Portman but I think she gives the better performance of the two. The character of Ree is a subtle performance and is never big or over the top and I never did not buy her as caring about her family, easily her best scene is where she is discussing her future with the Army recruiter simply for the look as everything is explained to her.
Hawkes on the other hand is much more active and explosive with his sudden changes in character. While we do not get much background on his character what we are shown is more than enough for the viewer to quickly realise he is not someone to be messed with. He has two of the best moments int he film the first being his sudden change from slightly annoyed to violently angry at being told he does not care about his missing brother and the second is his cold and sublt performance in the confrontation with the sheriff mentioned above. Hawkes is a great character actor and deserves mention for his work here.
The final element worth a quick mention that builds to the overall experience is the music and score. The score is perfect in building the suspense in scenes from the already mentioned sheriff confrontation to the final moments of the film.
In conclusion Winter's Bone is a very good mystery film with some amazing performances through out making the film easy to recommend to anyone looking for a smart but bleak story. If however you prefer a much faster paced action film I would say to avoid this as it is not your sort of film.