Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes
When Ree Dolly (Lawrence) is told that her criminal father used their house as bail after his latest clash with the law she has only a few days to find him before they are evicted. The plot is incredibly simple, following the journey of this hard and capable young woman as she tries to find her father, more hindered than helped along the way by a tight-lipped extended family and the desolate rural landscape.
Winter’s Bone is a drama first and foremost but the setting, in the freezing and isolated Ozark region, is so utterly alien that it adds a sense of discovery to the proceedings – of stepping into another world whose rules and mores are very different from our own. This community is violently untrusting of authority, with each member of the extended family convinced that Ree is trying to sell out her father to the law. Even relatively friendly visits are never far from conflict, embodied most impressively in the charcter of Teardrop (Hawkes). He is a powerful man in the community, feared more that respected, and he resents the search for his brother, at first openingly threatening his niece if she continues with her quest. But there’s nothing one dimensional about these characters and Teardrop’s slow turnaround is both realistic and breathtaking to watch.
Beyond the vividly captured landscapes, stark images and impressive glimpse into this strange world, the real power of Winter’s Bone lies in the performances. Jennifer Lawrence is stunning in the lead role, embracing the practical minded character completely without resorting to cliché or trying too hard to appear purposefully unglamorous. It’s a tough, almost silent, role and the commitment of the 18 year old is staggering. Again, it’s impossible not to focus on Hawke’s performance as Teardrop – he’s mesmerising onscreen and is certainly our pick for best supporting performance of the year.
Director Debra Granik keeps the pace slow but it’s in keeping with the tone of the piece, interspliced with some impressively lensed images and even some 8mm documentary style footage of wildlife that shouldn’t work but does. It’s the interjections of genre that also help to keep things compelling, moments that feel like a detective movie and even horror elements that never feel out of place.
If the highly likely event that you missed Winter’s Bone in cinemas, now is the perfect time to pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray. Even on the smaller screen, the chill of the wind and the textures of this unknown world are startlingly vivid and the performances shine through as stunningly as ever.
Extras: Commentary with director Debra Granik, a candid 45 minute making of and a selection of deleted scenes make up the bulk of the better than expected extras. You also get a theatrical trailer and a montage of scenes to Dickon Hinchliffe’s Hardscrabble Elegy track from the movie.