Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...
02 September, 2010
I heard about Winter's Bone at, of all places, the blog of a policy wonk who writes about economic and urban planning issues in the Midwest. After several paragraphs about the demographics of Indianapolis and how Cleveland can recover from the loss of its manufacturing base, he mentioned the movie. Not only did he find it to be a good film, but it also has a lot of resonance for many rural Midwestern areas including much of Wisconsin.
The movie concerns Ree Dolly, a 17 year-old girl living in the Ozarks of southern Missouri. Her father, Jessup, made a name for himself cooking up methamphetamines and, unsurprisingly, got caught. Ree's mother apparently had an emotional breakdown which has rendered her unable to do much of anything. She sits quietly in her chair staring off into space. This places the teenager in the position of being a parent to her little brother and sister and running the household.
One day the local constable pays Ree a visit and informs her that her father has been released from jail by posting a bond. However, his bond includes the Dolly home and, if he doesn't show up for his hearing the next week, the state will take control of the house and evict Ree and her family. Our protagonist then embarks on a mini odyssey through the general area in which she lives. Her uncle (Jessup's brother) proves to be of virtually no help as is the case with the rest of her family members. Eventually Ree finds that all roads lead to Thump Milton, the godfather of the local meth scene. But she has to get by Thump's wife Merab first.
Jennifer Lawrence does a great job as Ree. Lawrence has a pretty face but it spends most of the movie burdened with sadness and propped up with grim determination not to mention being beaten and bruised by Merab and her sisters. But there are other moments as well such as when Ree cries out of desperation and when she is taking time to teach her younger siblings how to fend for themselves. Scenes where Rees trudges through the woods to another house where there will be yet another domineering asshole who treats his wife like crap (most of the men in the film are portrayed this way) have a fatalistic tone to them. Ree looks weary and the trees are bare; the movie has been drained of color to a great extent so that everything has a steely blue-grey tint. Yet Lawrence keeps you hoping and gives you faith that Rees will prevail in the end.
In addition to bare trees and poor rural folk with cars on blocks in their front yards, the movie goes the extra mile in creating a gritty, realistic world. I really appreciated how it was almost bereft of non-diagetic music. It was present in a few scenes but confined mostly to atmospheric rumbles rather than big, open passages which telegraphed the action or proved to be an irresistible force which moved one's emotions in a particular direction. Instead we hear country music on the radio and the live old-timey jam session at a family gathering. Too much music would ruin Winter's Bone because I think it's much more interesting to watch the characters' face than to have a score tell me how to feel. The relative quiet lets the actors ply their trade and they are more than up to the challenge of engaging the audience on an emotional level.