Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Winter's Bone

BEST OF 2010

I waited too long to see this film. When I first heard of its release, I was afraid 2010 would be the year of the films trying to recreate the mood and setting of Frozen River. I ended up adoring Frozen River by the films end. Melissa Leo's performance is inspiring. I couldn't imagine why Winter's Bone was getting such reviews when all I had heard seemed to run too close alongside Frozen River's story. Also, the poster shows the young woman in the top left corner. I thought she was eight, or nine. I had no interest in the story of a character so young.

I was wrong on most accounts. The main character, Ree Dolly (played to almost perfection by Jennifer Lawrence), is a 17-year old. Ree is left to care for her young brother (ten-ish), younger sister (five), and her mentally fractured mother. The father, Jessup, is on the run from the law. Ree has to find her father in order to keep the family home and land. This feels like such familiar territory. Not really deserving of the incredible reviews. But, there is so much more.

The filmmaker takes control of every detail. From the front screen doors that are always stuck open, to the cement figurines littering a decaying farm, to the yellowing teeth, to the family bonds. The detail is exhausting. While watching the film I was reminded of a trip I took with my grandfather when I was 12. We went to visit his relatives living in the hills of Kentucky. The homes all over sized, filled to capacity, and rotting away. There was very little in the way of entertainment. Just a TV constantly blaring and the all day gossip chattering of those who lived in walking distance. My experience wasn't quite as extreme as the Dolly family, but it came close enough for me to respect the authenticity of their world.

At times, the film feels like a Cohen Brothers film. There is a bit of country-noir from time to time. The race against time to find the father. The very interesting, eclectic characters Ree encounters on her journey- a violent grandfather named Thumb, a cold uncle named Teardrop, and a gang of 50-year old women without a single fear in their body. They all have a dialogue and way of speaking all their own. This is a sociological study as much as a film experience.

The movie moves at an incredible pace. The end is as quiet as these lives, as our lives, in the larger scheme of things. We're given a little slice of life. The film handles the horrors of Ree's life in such an unusual manner. The film, on some level, could have played out as a horror film, actually. The content is quite dark and the journey is through decaying barns, abandoned cemeteries, and near frozen lakes.


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