Monday, February 21, 2011
Have you ever been driving down a country road past a ramshackle house on the edge of a bog, with a broken pick-up (or three) in the yard and a few mangy horses in the corral, and said to yourself: “I wonder what’s goin’ on up there?” If you happened to be passing through the Ozarks, Winter’s Bone would give you some sort of an answer—and it ain’t pretty. But it makes a pretty good movie.
Ree, the main character, is seventeen; she’s raising her two younger siblings because her mother is largely catatonic and her dad has been missing for a while. He makes crystal meth for a living—everybody knows it. (Half the people in the valley probably use it.)
When the sheriff informs Ree that her house will be repossessed if her dad doesn’t show up for a court appearance, she sets out to find him. But no one wants her nosing into the local “crank” industry. Even her uncle, “Teardrop,” tries to scare her off the hunt. Each person she meets is more hostile than the last, though many of them are neighbors and shirttail relatives.
It’s true, the woman across the way brings over a haunch of venison from time to time, and Ree’s girlfriend, who’s already a mother, finally wrangles the keys to the pick-up from her ornery husband, so they can poke around the countryside a bit. In the course of her investigations people tell her things that sort of make sense, and sort of don’t (just like in Chretien de Troyes!) all of which adds to the atmosphere of unrelenting confusion and fear that hangs over the proceedings, relieved only by a few mournful bluegrass numbers and Ree’s dogged determination to come up with a way to find her dad and keep her family—such as it is—intact.
Does Ree’s dad eventually turn up? I wouldn’t want to spoil the film by saying. But that issue aside, the conclusion leaves us with quite a few unanswered questions—things that Ree herself may never know, and probably would be better off not knowing.
Winter’s Bone is a backwoods family drama that steers clear of the hay-seed, cornball, Hee-Haw stuff, and skirts out-and-out melodrama with equal success, thus keeping our attention focused squarely on what these people’s live are actually like.
Jennifer Lawrence is superbly ordinary as young Ree, and John Hawkes is compellingly creepy as uncle Teardrop.