An outstanding turn from young actress Jennifer Lawrence propels this adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel into the realms of a genuine Oscar contender. Favouring raw naturalism ahead of Hollywood convention, this engrossing tale of a 17-year-old’s quest to find her father in a rural part of America is further bolstered by director Debra Granik’s ability to engender a sense of wonderment in what we witness.
Lawrence, who impressed in a supporting role in last year’s vastly underrated The Burning Plain, plays Ree - a teenager plunged into an unrelentingly bleak scenario. She not only has to look after her ill mother and two younger siblings, but must also hunt down her missing father in a bid to salvage her family and raise enough cash to prevent their home being repossessed. Her quest puts her life in danger as she finds that lies, evasion and narcotics are all interweaved with the remote community’s unwillingness to address the dirty secrets that underpin their existence.
In other words, you won’t need to book any Botox treatments to tackle laughter lines generated during the viewing of this film. Instead, we can’t help but adopt a permanent frown while witnessing the physical and emotional trials endured by Ree, with Jennifer Lawrence engendering the character with a sense of unflappable dignity and determination that belie her tender years. The naturally beautiful actress 'does a Theron', not only in stripping away the make-up for an unflattering look, but stripping down the psychological layers too - and in a very natural, subtle and uncontrived manner that takes great skill.
Her haunting turn is well complemented by John Hawkes’s supporting performance as Ree’s drug-addled uncle Teardrop. Evoking Dennis Hopper at his dangerous best, Hawkes keeps us on tenterhooks with the unpredictability of the character, forcing us to monitor every minute facial expression or body tick for signs of his next move, whether it be an aggressive or compassionate one.
Debra Granik’s directorial style channels early Terrence Malick with her captivating depiction of everyday banality in the American wilderness. In particular, her recurring shots of Ree’s siblings playing on a trampoline or bales of hay are fascinating. They embody the innocence that Ree has had to vanquish due to her predicament, in addition to forming a poignant juxtaposition with the drug-infused decadence in the surrounding environs. Most importantly, Granik’s camerawork indefatigably monitors Ree’s face, which is doing its best to exude a thick skin in the face of adversity.
Winter’s Bone is a rewarding watch that does repay a fairly slow-moving narrative with heightened tension and twists at the end. The somewhat repetitive nature of Ree’s door-to-door enquiries in the first half of the movie does threaten to test the patience at times. Fortunately, the potency of Jennifer Lawrence in a very difficult role drags the film out of any possible quandaries.
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