Missouri, present day, 17 year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has to take care of her mentally ill mother and younger brother and sister after the disappearance of her father. One day the Sheriff shows up and tells her that her absent father, Jessop, a notorious crystal-meth producer, has put the family house and land up as a bond but is close to breaking bail. With time running out and the threat of homelessness, Ree seeks help from her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes), and sets out to find her father, asking around family and a closed community addicted to cooking crystal meth and withholding a lot of secrets.
Winner of this year’s Sundance film festival Grand Jury Prize, it brings to mind Frozen River, a previous film, also a winner of the same prize, which features tough women committing illegal acts in harsh conditions which was also directed by a woman.
Adapted from a book by Daniel Woodrell, director Debra Granik has made a highly atmospheric film that has captured a fresh view of rural America: the rarely seen rugged terrain populated by the tough and poor, the type that goes hunting and gutting animals, those whose homes have junkyards for front lawns and see the military as a way out of their poverty… It’s hardly Deliverance. It feels much more real than that freakish carnival.
Winter’s Bone has a visual combination of blue tint, and a washed out look that gives it a cold and ancient atmosphere that makes Ree’s journey feel like something of a gothic fairytale as she ventures through ancient woods and along back roads.
This is further added to by the people that populate the area. They are close-knit and hold many secrets that revolve around selling crystal-meth. Violence is never lingered upon but the threat of violence adds to the tension and while the men posture it is the women who are truly tough, meting out the violence and holding their families together.
The film is a testament to the resilience of the population as they try to retain their dignity and history. This is most effectively shown during the scenes involving traditional music where people revive spirits and songs of old. Even the fearsome Teardrop has a strum of a banjo.
Hunting her father, Ree is the heart of the film as she rises to overcome the challenges. The film worked because I believed the lead actress in her toughness and love. The same can be said for the actor for Teardrop who portrays a melancholy, gaunt man who has depths of violence and love that are hinted at. Much like this film.