I really didn’t expect Winter’s Bone to be my favourite film of the year. I missed the press screening because of a hefty workload, and actually headed along one evening after a couple of friends recommended it on Twitter. I was absolutely blown away by how raw, uncompromising and brilliant it was. I had heard the rumblings from Sundance that it was a breakout hit, with an apparently star-making lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence, but frankly, I’d heard that shit before and been disappointed. But it was true; I cannot recall a performance that good from anyone in recent cinematic memory - Lawrence is stunning in every sense of the word.
While the 20 year olds astonishing performance is reason enough to purchase this film and watch it over and over again, there is a lot more to this gritty thriller. Debra Granik’s camera explores a part of America few knew existed - even most Americans - and introduces us to a concoction of characters; most of whom are hiding something horrible. Lawrence’s Ree Dolly is looking for her father, but not for hugs or help; she needs to find him dead or alive so their modest house - with was put up for collateral when he was bailed from jail - isn’t taken from her already struggling family. Ree is pragmatic, tough and beautiful but very little about the latter helps her in her quest to save her home, younger siblings and senile mother. She has to venture to dangerous places and ask dangerous questions to undesirable characters, most of whom would kill her without a second thought. Her home, the home of her family, now rests on her finding her missing father - himself hardly a stellar role model. This is where we meet the second great performance of Winter’s Bone, that of underrated character actor John Hawkes who plays Bree's tough as nails Uncle, Teardrop. You wouldn’t slag his name to his face.
Pragmatism is vital to survival when you’re that poor, and that desperate; but to be pragmatic in the face of overwhelming adversity calls from incredible strength. Bree has that strength, but is hardly Lara Croft. She is vulnerable, she is a teen girl, and that now lost wanting of a normal childhood is evident in her face throughout. But she had to sacrifice her wants for the sake of her brother and sister because they can’t fend for themselves. Even if she could leave her family, her options are limited to the army - a sad reflection of the poverty stricken and poor working class of America. She doesn’t mope about her lack of options in life, or the shite hand she was dealt, Bree just gets on with it. She’s everything her father should have been and her mother can't be.
In true indie fashion Winter’s Bone is slow moving, and almost static at points; but those pauses come with purpose. Granik wants to you drink every drop of this bleak world in, feel what Bree is feeling and suffer alongside her - making the possibility of coming out of the other side of a truly horrific situation all the more gratifying. It is a strangely feel good film given the obviously harrowing story and constantly foreboding tone - but every frame of it feels real. If there’s any justice in the world Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of a truly resilient heroine will see her thanking her agent on Oscar night.
Regardless of awards talk, she is the brightest young talent currently staining celluloid. A remarkable and powerful film, I urge you to seek it out as I did - you won't be sorry.