Re:View – ‘Winter’s Bone’
Of the Oscar contenders this year, I’d felt ‘The Social Network’ was the best film on offer until I saw ‘Winter’s Bone’. Not very fashionable subject matter – a poverty-stricken Missouri family – an unknown cast, an atmosphere of relentless servitude to the grim landscape. But within this setting, something genuinely haunting and memorable occurs.
For a start, this is no mere essay of desperate lives. When such films are made in the UK, like the critically lauded but barely watchable ‘Fish Tank’, it becomes a point of honour to make sure that absolutely nothing happens and nothing is resolved. However, ‘Winter’s Bone’ almost works as a thriller. It has the structure of a classic crime film, and locks your interest from the moment that Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), seventeen years-old with a catatonic mother and two siblings to take care of, is forced to surrender her horse because she can’t afford to keep him.
Her father cooks crystal-meth and hasn’t been seen around for a while. If he fails to make his court appearance, the county will take her house. She has nowhere else to go, and no money to even feed the family. Neighbours are suspicious, hostile and sometimes violent toward her. Nobody is prepared to help. Ree Dolly is tougher than she looks, though, and resolves to find her father before the court date.
As her situation becomes more desperate, the neighbours we have written off early as disordered backwoods clans take on more rounded personalities, and we see how the social structure works here. Eventually, you come to sympathise with the most difficult characters of all – the violent and impoverished extended family who nearly leave Ree Dolly for dead.
And the Joel and Ethan Coen rules of noir come into play:
1. The innocent must suffer
2. The guilty must be punished
3. You must taste blood to be a man
In this case it’s a young girl, but her ordeal – which comes toward the end of the film and mat have you looking away – is as tough as you’d expect any man to face.
Surprisingly, the film’s apparent bleakness leaves behind a different feeling – that in societies such as these there is an order that comes into play in extremis. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is nothing short of superb, and the film will be remembered long after the closing credits roll.