Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Winter's Bone" (2010) - Movie Review

A place sculpts its people. Crossing boundaries and crossing frontiers will erase their sharp sword but the sheath remains as traces of that remains deeper than the bones and the subtly mixes itself in the blood. “Winter’s Bone” is a story of a place and how it shapes the people in it. They are not stereotypes but characters. They are not mocked but constitute a sense of scary stillness to the place they live. In this land which often follows a violent act with an act of kindness is Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a seventeen year old sister of two being made to an adult.

Debra Granik’s film is the kind of meditation you find in films which has immaculate details in creating an environment along with its character. Like the poetic films of “The Proposition”, “The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford” and David Gordon Green’s southern films, Granik takes on the inner veins of Missouri. Though I have studied in this dense state, I dare not claim that I have the knowledge of the culture and the mood of that place. But Granik creates those with an authenticity that is true to the story it forms.

Ree has a sick mother unable to comprehend the reality around her. They just tell she is sick but she can listen and react to what she wants. May be Ree’s disappeared father Jessup’s meth labs have caused her to be that way. That brings to the driving sense for this film which is that Jessup has a court date to appear and has left the house and woods as a bond for his arrest. Now he is going to jump the date and thus the only source of comfort of having a place to stay is getting ripped off from Ree.

She has to find her dad. To do that she enquires, snoops and finally goes to places a seventeen year old does not allowed to be seen. Jessup’s brother Teardrop (John Hawkes) is not inviting of his niece. Teardrop is the collection of all the uncles we all feared as kid. With him around he creates trepidation in lazy movement of his. A face with marks, tattoos and scars that cannot be differentiated, he is not the one to mess with. There is a gun and magazine in place where keys are kept in his house. A mere start of sentence with “Listen” by Ree brings forth a sudden wrath that tells about the man he is. Then again his wife Victoria comes back with some wise advise and some cash for Ree to move on.

Wherever Ree goes, everyone knows the situation. There needs no explanation other than the fact that no one is there to provide the answer she wants. In between these on-the-edge situations Ree gets into we wonder was there even an affection that lived across her dad and the family? There is lot of pride in being a Dolly but abandoning a family for meth lab does not score brownie points for affection with your loved ones. Despite that Ree goes and stares and graces the shoes and clothes of her dad. She daunts and carries a determination in finding her dad dead or alive where risk does not even appear to be on the horizon for her.

There will be those who are denied the opportunity to be kids, teens or even the early part of irresponsible adulthood. Even in a family of strict upbringing, there exists an entry to an exit temporarily into the world unseen. There those kids become kids and in those we have seen people like Ree whose moments to those exits are dropping her young sister to the school. Looking at yearning on the opportunities that will be missed and her life stranded into the responsibility she never opted for. Being that kid and becoming that kid is brought in by Jennifer Lawrence. She does not enter a house with nothing but trouble not because of determination but the confidence in the ability to handle it. It does not scare her because she grew up around meth lab. She is smart around the people who are both deceiving and helping at the same time. When you have people like that there is nothing but your family keeping you inside the small sanity in the house of hers. When that is threatened to be taken away, there emerges those instincts she never knew of or shown of.

John Hawkes is the actor you would have seen as faceless sleazy man in films wherein all he has to do is exist with his devious presence. He is the guy who talks a lot and gets kicked with the support of audience for our action hero. He is also the man giving a complicated yet likable person in “Me You and Everyone We Know”. As Teardrop, the uncle of Ree, he has matured to a degree which have been denied to him in all other films. He is all what he has done in the stereotypic role I mentioned but here there is the conviction. He transitions into the unexpected life saver which is more than the hope you could hope for, even if he snorts coke now and then. That is the world Ree survives upon.

“Winter’s Bone” never denies and takes advantage of its environment for the sake of plot. The characters in here cannot be confirmed by me as real but in this film they cannot get more than that. If I stop by in a remote place of Missouri or drop in the outskirts in a town a colleague of mine comes from, I can see myself running into these people. I might get hit by Merab (Dale Dickey) with her cup, helped by strangers like Sonya (Shelley Waggener) and stared by Ree with her friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser). Debra Granik brings forth the territory which are foreign to Americans yet it is so American in simple subtle actions in the midst of imminent dangers. Seek this film is all I can say.


Reel Fanatic said...

Great review ... This is easily the best movie I've seen in 2010 (well, it isn't that much better than "Toy Story 3,"the No. 2 on the list, but they're obviously quite different flicks)

Ashok said...

Thanks Keith! I would not call it the best movie of 2010 but is on one of the best movies so far in 2010 :-).