Oscar Movie Month: "Winter's Bone" Review

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Jennifer Lawrence stars as 17 year-old Ree Dolly, a young girl struggling to take care of her family in the Ozark Mountains after they've been left parent-less. Father Jessup has disappeared after making bail for cooking meth, and their mother has been left in a catatonic state, needing care from Ree on a daily basis. One day the local Sheriff comes to tell the family that their father put up their house as collateral for his bail and unless he shows up for his trial in a week's time, they will lose it all. Despite warnings to stay away from the dangerous drug trade, a determined Ree puts her own life on the line in an effort to learn the truth about her father.
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Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: September 17, 2010
Directed by: Debra Granik
Genre: Drama

This moody, atmospheric drama follows the struggles of a teenage girl living in the Ozark mountains as she searches to discover the whereabouts of her missing father. The film received critical acclaim upon its release and secured four Academy Award nominations. Jennifer Lawrence gives a breakout performance in the lead role. Director Debra Granik's camera captures the eerie, yet beautiful, look of the mountain setting brilliantly. "Winter's Bone" is a must-see film that gives viewers a lot to appreciate and ponder long after the final credits have ended.

Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly, who lives in the Ozarks with her mentally ill mother and younger brother and sister, faces a complex dilemma. Her father, who was out on bail for selling illegal drugs, offered the family's home as collateral for his bail bond. He has not appeared for his court date and now young Ree and her mother and siblings will lose their house if he is not found.

This disturbing news drives young Ree to set out on a journey to find her father and to determine if he is even alive. The search takes her to various locations in the mountains. She is met with a hostile reception from most of the people she meets, including her drug-dealing uncle, Teardrop. Her uncle warns her that pursuing the search will be dangerous, but Ree continues asking questions and never wavers from her goal of saving her home.

The film is shot without the use of computer graphics or quick cutting methods that are so prominent in many of today's films. The movie's pace is somewhat slower than the average moviegoer might be accustomed to watching. The film never bogs down, however, as the viewer identifies so strongly with Ree that the audience's attention does not falter.

The strong cast does an amazing job of portraying rural characters and does so without a trace of condescension. The viewer feels that all of these individuals are real people and not stereotypes. The low-key performance by Jennifer Lawrence never calls attention to itself, yet delivers a powerful impact that lingers in the mind for a long time. John Hawkes is outstanding as Uncle Teardrop, a man who is conflicted by his concern for his niece and the knowledge that she might expose some of his illegal activities. Another cast standout is Dale Dickey, who plays the role of Merab, the woman determined to stop Ree from asking too many inconvenient questions, to perfection.

Even the lesser roles in this film are played by actors who are utterly convincing. Some of the actors in the smaller roles are from the Ozark region, and their performances enhance the strong sense of place the viewer feels as the movie unfolds.

In the pursuit of authenticity, the film was shot on location on the Ozark mountains, which heightens the realism of the story. The production team did not create any sets for the movie, choosing to shoot the interior scenes in actual homes and buildings in the area. Many of the props used in the homes are actual items provided to the filmmakers by local residents. This attention to detail adds a layer of honesty and truth rarely seen in films.

The conclusion of the movie forces Ree to accept some unpleasant truths about her father and many of her relatives. In the end, though, her determination to take care of her mother and siblings is rewarded. Ree has learned that the world is often a harsh and unfair place. She has also come to understand that an individual must never give up, even in the face of life's obstacles.

A haunting and memorable evocation of rural life in a region of the United States that is relatively unknown to the rest of the nation, "Winter's Bone" sets a high standard for any film that sets out to explore rural America. The loving dedication that the cast and crew showers on the powerful script makes the execution of the story an absolute joy to behold. Rarely have the trials and tribulations of the rural poor been portrayed in a film with such a compelling attention to detail and with such a show of empathy and compassion.

This film will strongly appeal to all of those who are moved by superb acting and captivating storytelling. The characters have a universal quality and humanity with which everyone who sees the film can easily identify. Anyone who enjoys movies of the highest caliber should take the opportunity to watch this stunning and vivid film.

Rating: 3 out of 5