April 07, 2012

Winter's Bone

Ozark noir. Jennifer Lawrence plays 17-year-old Rhee, who's forced to look after her kid brother and sister because her father is a convicted meth maker, and her mom is "sick." (She doesn't talk, for reasons we don't know.) When a bail bondsman informs Rhee that their house will be taken from them if her father doesn't show for his upcoming court appearance, she resolves to track him down. For just about the rest of the movie she visits a string of cousins and half-cousins and other distant relatives (she half-jokes, "we all share blood one way or another") who are all pretty much devoted to the lofty career opportunities provided by making, selling, and taking Methamphetamines.

I suppose the reason I was dissatisfied with this film is because I expected it to be a more absorbing mystery, something spellbinding. Winter's Bone is a much more deliberately paced thriller. It offers subtle enjoyments. The characters are imbued with a gritty, weather-worn rural quality. The actors seem plucked from the Arkansas mountains to perform their parts. Very few people are painted in black and white colors. Because everyone is so morally ambiguous, you're never sure who to trust or to root for, except the girl. Lawrence carries the picture mightily well. She's easy to root for, being the plucky, resourceful type, and possibly the only non-drug addict in the movie.

Winter's Bone has a rustic gloominess which gives the viewer a sense of dread and foreboding. We don't ever know what to expect. However, I found a lot of the searching for clues repetitive, and only minimally rewarding. There's a lot of build up to a climax that somehow feels anti-climactic. Perhaps it was the trash junkie in me that was waiting for a shootout ala L.A. Confidential or something as terrifically suspenseful as last year's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Winter's Bone is hard and realistic, but a bit too measured and stable, especially considering the instability of the characters' myriad situations.

Directed by Debra Granik. With John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Garret Dillahunt, Dale Dickey,  Isaiah Stone, Ashlee Thompson, Tate Taylor, and Sheryl Lee.

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