Published Jun 17, 2010Having won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and almost unilateral praise from critics, Winter's Bone has the makings of being this summer's alternative programming, word-of-mouth gem, for those a little numb to supremacist superhero movies and Peter Pan boy comedies. It's the sort of taut, intelligent adult thriller that Americans stopped making 30 years ago, only this time with a welcome non-preachy, pseudo-feminist slant and desiccated Western mythological backdrop.
Just as Debra Granik's previous unsentimental and uncompromising tale of drug addiction, Down to the Bone, brought Vera Farmiga into the limelight, this story of a strong-willed Ozark mountain girl braving anarchic social terrain to find her missing father is sure to make Jennifer Lawrence a household name.
Now, simply mentioning the premise doesn't do the film justice, as one needs to watch the series of unpredictable and increasingly unsettling events unfold to understand just why her quest is so dangerous and foreboding. Her motivations are clear, having two younger siblings to look after, with the threat of homelessness dependent on finding her father (he put their home up for bail and then promptly disappeared), but just where he is and why it's so difficult to find him is where the mystery occurs.
While Granik's script has an ear for white trash dialogue and her unembellished direction serves the candid action and tense character interactions well, the one major issue is that of grating contrivance in the third act. A change of heart from a reluctant uncle (played by John Hawkes) and a bizarre sense of order and hierarchy amongst drug-addicted mountain folk are somewhat inorganic and threaten to betray the previously built-up naturalism and authenticity of the piece.
Thankfully, Lawrence's grounded, tough-as-nails portrayal of a single-minded teenager wise beyond her years greatly overcompensates for this, making these flaws incidental and almost irrelevant. And what's more is that this film about ungoverned space without laws, political correctness or consequence isn't set in a dystopian future, rather, it's here and now, which is what's most affecting and terrifying. (Maple)