Adapted from Daniel Woodrell’s best-selling novel, Winter’s Bone joins a string of independent films to emerge from America with a keen realist agenda, intent on giving a voice to America’s dispossessed and unheard communities. Indeed, it shares a similar structure to Courtney Hunt’s enormously successful Frozen River whose female protagonist is also caught in a frantic race against time to save her family home from being repossessed.
Set in the stark, barren Ozark woods of Missouri, seventeen year old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is barely coping to look after her two younger siblings and her mother who is on the verge of sliding into a vegetative state. One day the local law enforcement shows up to inform Ree that her meth-cooking father has secured bail by using the family home as collateral. With the prospect of losing their house, Ree must travel to the darkest recesses of her suspicious, evasive and dangerous community to uncover her father’s whereabouts with potentially disastrous consequences.
Winter’s Bone, despite its slow pace and miserable subject matter, is an accomplished film which, thanks to Debra Granik’s direction, refuses to lapse into sentimental territory. Jennifer Lawrence is nothing less than scintillating as the put-upon Ree and invests a resilience of spirit into the character that is not only fully convincing but also intensely moving.
Shot on location, the harsh surroundings of the Ozark woods are also wonderfully and realistically evoked. A blown up meth-laboratory isn’t unlike many of the residents’ homes, the majority of which have been left to sink into states of disrepair in a sad reflection of the corrosive effects of crank on its users. The hunting of squirrels and deer constitute the main source of sustenance as Ree and her family struggle to afford even the most basic amenities.
If Winter’s Bone sounds like a film in search of an Oscar, it is. However, unlike so many of her contemporaries Granik’s film not only deserves the nomination – it might possibly deserve the win depending on who its up against.