What strikes one most about Debra Granik's chilling adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's best selling Ozark Noir novel Winter's Bone, is its unique mélange of Earthy realism and strange otherworldliness. The story of a back woods - waaaay back - Missouri clan and one seventeen year old's vain search for her fugitive meth-cooking father (lest she and her sick mother and baby sister and brother be thrown out of their home in return for a broken bond), the film has a deeply resonating reality permeating it throughout - complete with casting the smaller roles with actual locals of these same said back woods - yet at the same time its mountain people community seems so alien to most of us that it has an air of utter bizarreness to it as well. A striking paradox that gives this already powerfully acted film an even stronger psychological presence.
The heart of this film though are the people that populate it. Leading this procession of professional, yet quite unknown actors is Jennifer Lawrence as the aforementioned seventeen year old, Ree. Already on a bee line to take home the Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress (the film has already garnered the top prize at Sundance) Lawrence appears here almost as if a godsend of an actress precariously placed amongst the evils of this backwoods society, but with enough teeth to hold her own and then some. Practically unheard of prior to Sundance (her biggest role was that of the eldest daughter in the quite short-lived and mostly unseen sit-com The Bill Engvall Show), Lawrence, other than the obviousness of being on the edge of stardom (her next role will be that of a young Mystique in the upcoming, semi-high profile X-Men: First Class) is first and foremost a remarkable actress handing in the most powerful and most unflinching of performances.
Yet, no matter how great Lawrence is in this film (and she is incredible to put it bluntly), it is her co-star, John Hawkes (mostly known for his work on Deadwood) playing the uniquely named Teardrop, Ree's crazy-eyed uncle, who manages to steal this already jaw-dropping film away from anyone and everyone. By far the most complex character (as well as the most twistedly liberating as well as the most strangely humane) the role of Teardrop, and the performance of Hawkes is, as Bogie once pondered, the stuff dreams are made of - and legends. Granted, at times, the film trods in obvious places (even when enveloped within such an alien environment) and stumbles over cliche now and again, but Granik's film is so full of such ruthless intensity from everyone involved (including those backwoods locals) one is blown away enough to forgive such slight directorial mis-behaviour.
Seemingly forever in attack mode, this moody film gives you the willies enough to make you question all of its character's motivations - never quite knowing who to trust and who not to, nor which way is up and which way is way way down. Quite the welcome (if not terrifyingly so) change (even with its ever-so-slight, and quite forgivable flaws) considering the gentrified downward spiral indie cinema has fallen into as of late. After so many so-called indie films have flashed in and out of the proverbial pan, never hanging around long enough to show any real meat on the bones, when they ask how one should make an independent film, one need only steer them in the direction of Debra Granik's Winter's Bone. [08/15/10]