Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Curious Films
Now Showing

I'm not sure how familiar Australian audiences are with the Ozarks, the mountainous region in the southern United States, other than as 'hillbilly country'. But in Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, adapted from the Daniel Woodrell novel of the same name, those mountains are a character unto themselves.

Shot in a greyish-blue palette, the snow-free but no less cold winter environment is only a couple degrees hospitable than the landscape depicted in the post-apocolyptic The Road. Many of the characters in Granik's noirish film are right at home in these surrounds, simialrly harsh and unforgiving to outsiders or anyone who threatens the status quo.

That's exactly what Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) does when she goes looking for her meth-cooking father. He's skipped bail after being arrested for said illicit activity, and having used the family home as bond, he has only days to front up before the law collects on the debt, forcing Ree, her younger siblings and somewhat catatonic mother onto the streets, or, more appropriately, the woods.

Bravely, or foolishly as the case proves to be, Ree approaches family and neighbours to help in her search. But Ree might as well be pleading to the gnarled, leafless trees that surround her small home for all the response she gets. Her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes) is borderline violent in his rebuke of his niece, while the women folk of the undeclared patriarch of the area have no problem getting physical with the girl. They don't want trouble and they'll silence anyone who brings it.

Barely 17, Ree has had to grow up fast and she's not about to be deterred by a wall of silence, however menacing. Jennifer Lawrence, hitherto unknown to me, brings this young heroine vividly to life, vivid being an ironic descriptor for Ree is anything but demonstrative or emotive.

Ree has a dogged determination, a strong sense of what's right, and an unwavering love of family and home, however seemingly little they offer her in return. It's a quietly powerful performance that is not unworthy of the awards talk it has been garnering since the film debuted at Sundance in January.

Indeed, all performances in the film are effective due in large part to Granik's bid for authenticity, both in writing her characters and in her collaboration with the locals (the film was shot on location in the Ozarks), many of whom fill minor roles. It all adds to an evocative sense of place and a surprisingly affecting experience.

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