Today: April 17, 2024

Winter's Bone

The country. For a townie, is there anyplace scarier than the country?
Bad things happen in the country. If the movies have taught us nothing
else it’s that the country is a dangerous place. Haven’t you ever seen Straw Dogs? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Calvaire? Emmerdale? You don’t want to go camping there (Eden Lake) and you definitely don’t want to go whitewater rafting (Deliverance).
Unless you actually want to be bummed by a bunch of hicks who kinda
look like the Kings of Leon. There’s at least two episodes a year of
Escape to the Country that the BBC can’t air because the participants
have been raped, murdered and eaten (and not necessarily in that order)
by the local torch-wielding inbreds of Norfolk or Gloucestershire.
No-one in their right mind should ever willingly choose to go to the
country. But some people don’t get the choice. They’re born there. Just
like Ree Jolly, the indomitable teenage heroine of Winter’s Bone.

Set in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, Winter’s Bone is a tense, hard-bitten slice of country-noir. 17-year old Ree Jolly (young Renee Zellwegger-alike Jennifer Lawrence)
ekes out a bleak existence. Tough, smart and self-reliant, in any other
film Ree would be giggling over boys and choosing a prom dress. Here
she’s the de-facto head of the household, caring for her young sister
and brother not to mention her mentally fragile mother. Everyday is a
struggle for survival as Ree battles to keep her family together. Things
aren’t helped when the local sheriff comes calling with some bad news.
Ree’s no-good, drug-dealing dad has used the family farm as collateral
for the bail he’s promptly skipped out on, disappearing into the hardscrabble environment of crumbling shacks, junked cars and mobile homes that form their world. If he doesn’t show for court in a week, the family will be made homeless.

Ree finds herself faced with a stark choice; track down her errant
father or watch her life disintegrate. Ree’s response: “I’ll find him,”
each word spat out like a bullet. So off she stomps on her own personal
odyssey, determined to find her absent parent and asking the sort of
questions that are “are a real good way to get et’ by hogs.” As it
becomes increasingly obvious that her father has fallen foul of some
nasty business associates (all of whom he’s related to. Well, it is
redneck country) Ree’s quest may just lead her to a shallow grave of her
own.

With the best bluegrass soundtrack this side of O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? and
based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone is a spare, lyrical
film, an unflinching portrait of rural poverty in America and a damn
good thriller. Debra Granik’s direction is as terse and economical as
her characters, creating a vision of backwoods America that’s both
beautiful and terrifying. The film is suffused with menace, an atmosphere of mounting dread,
and it’s to Granik’s credit that she doesn’t demonise the mountain
culture. Sure, most of the antagonists Ree finds herself up against are
toothless, drug-addled hicks but Granik has the courage to humanise
them. The society she paints is harsh, unforgiving, but so is the world
it exists in. Lip service is paid to family bonds and codes of morality
but dark secrets rule the insular community and people will kill to keep
them. For all her courage, tenacity and determination, her grit, Ree is
out of her depth and she knows it.

While it may be her extended clan of drug-dealers and smalltime
crooks who threaten Ree, it’s their women who are truly terrifying. Led
by a ferocious Dale Dickey (who memorably played Patty the crank whore on My Name Is Earl), the women of Winter’s Bone are vengeful harpies,
the steel in their menfolks code of silence, meting out their own
brutal punishments to inquisitive interlopers. Newcomer Jennifer Lawrence’s steely performance as Ree is phenomenal,
finding just the right mix of toughness and vulnerability that makes
you ache for her as she is battered, beaten and stares down death in her
quest to find her missing father. She’s ably supported by the
terrifying John Hawkes as her violent, ambiguous uncle Teardrop and a cast of character actors which features the faded beauty of David Lynch alumnus, Sheryl Lee.
Tense, violent and poetic, featuring the sort of strong female
characters we’d love to see left alone in a room for five minutes with
the fag hags of Sex and the City, Winter’s Bone is a slow-burning thriller about life on the margins.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website: thekolsocial.com

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