I’m a bit late on this one, but I finally got to see Winter’s Bone, a film for which adjectives like “gritty” and “unflinching” might have been coined especially. Directed and co-written by Debra Granik, this features a star-making central performance from Jennifer Lawrence as 17 year old Ree, who has by default become the head of her disadvantaged and dysfunctional family given the absence of her drug-dealing father and the fragile mental state of her housebound mother. They live in a shack as part of a straggly and impoverished community in the Ozark mountains in Missouri and Ree’s been doing a pretty good job of paying the bills and looking after her two younger siblings, but a visit from the local sheriff who warns her that their house will be repossessed unless her father turns up to an imminent court hearing precipitates a desperate search for information among some highly unwelcoming and unforthcoming local characters.
Winter’s Bone is far from a glossy, escapist piece of entertainment. There’s mud, blood, greasy hair, unwashed clothing, rusty machinery and precariously constructed living quarters on display in pretty much every scene, and, Lawrence aside, the casting director seems to have picked the players on the strength of the weatherbeaten-ness of their faces and the growliness of their cussing. Ree finds herself in more and more physical peril the more she ignores the warnings to mind her own business and her ordeals look like they really hurt. Despite this, the film never feels gratuitously bleak, and the possibility for human redemption is carefully pointed up by Granik, mainly through the happy and as yet unsullied natures of Sonny and Ashlee, the two young children who Ree struggles to protect from a very uncertain future. Lawrence shines in a very unglamorous role and succeeds in conveying a mixture of toughness, savvy and compassion that doesn’t seem like it came off a production line. All very impressive, with a satisfying ending as well.