I can’t call myself a film officionado; I just know I love them. I can’t call myself an expert on what independent films are sure to shine; I just walk away from some with a gut feeling knowing that I either just saw a gem or a total dud. By the time I walked out of the theater the other night, I knew for certain I’d just seen a diamond in Winter’s Bone.
The premise of Winter’s Bone is simple: Ree Dolly is a 17 year old taking care of her younger brother and sister, as well as a mentally ill mother, when the local sheriff shows up on her doorstep with grave news. Her deadbeat father (a crystal meth maker and dealer) is out on bond, and has failed to show up for his appointed court date. The problem? Dear old dad has put the house up for his bond money, and if he fails to appear, Ree’s family is out in the cold, literally. What follows is one of the best films I’ve seen all year, hands down.
Jennifer Lawrence is the vehicle behind what makes Winter’s Bone such a great movie. The first few minutes takes the time to establish certain things: first, Ree is the one who runs the family. Second, she’s not afraid to make choices that will hurt her, which is clear in scenes depicting her absences from school in order to better run the household, as well a heart-wrenching decision to give her horse to a local stable owner because she can no longer afford to take care of it. It’s evident that Ree is a tough bird, and the statement is consistent throughout the film.
Another thing that stands out is the overarching theme of family and family loyalties, something presented to me in a completely different way here. No one snitches around her town, period. Even though she already has no idea where her father is, Ree makes it clear to the police that they will get no cooperation from her, even if he’s a deadbeat dad. Family is that important here. In her search for her father’s whereabouts, she has to knock on the door of many of her “kin”, a term I use loosely but nonetheless literally: It seems everyone in Ree’s community shares some blood, though none of them are exactly certain of their familial ties. This causes a bit of awkwardness, when she goes to ask questions to people in the community recognized as authority figures, calling on this kinship to aid her search. Blood relations are not enough to get many answers, but it’s just barely enough to make her walk away from some situations without danger befalling her. This is how you know her father is in some real deep trouble.
Despite the warnings, Ree continues to doggedly pursue her father, asking the wrong questions to the wrong people. One of those people, surprisingly is her uncle Teardrop, played to haunting perfection by John Hawkes. Simply put, he’s a badass, physically threatening Ree to mind her own business and go home. I simplify his role here for the sake of not , but he is crucial to the deepening tension of this film, especially some of the incredibly powerful final scenes.
And what power the final half hour has. The secrets begin to unfold quickly from there, tying back to what I stated earlier – Ree has to make some hard decisions; decisions even I have to admit I don’t think I have the stomach to handle. This is a messed up movie, but a gripping one.
Winter’s Bone is playing in limited release at select theaters. Do yourself a favor and go check it out, while you still can.