Movies: Winter's bone * * * * *
(15A, Limited Release)
Set in the trailer-park middle-America explored of late in films such as Wendy and Lucy and Frozen River, Debra Granik's Winter's Bone was a firm favourite at this year's Sundance Festival.
It has been well described as a 'country noir' thriller, and is set in the rough Ozark mountain terrain of southwestern Missouri.
This is deep in the southern back country. Rusting cars and trucks festoon the front yards, kids play amid the wreckage and angry dogs react almost as unfavourably to the arrival of strangers as their masters do. In this hard world, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has been forced to grow up very quickly.
At just 17, she's looking after her little brother and sister and her vacant mother, who seems to have thrown her hat at it all. Her father has disappeared without a trace, most likely as a consequence of his involvement in the family business -- the brewing of methamphetamine.
Things are bad enough to necessitate Ree begging for food off neighbours and hunting squirrels with a crossbow, but they get worse when a marshal turns up and tells her that her father put the family property up as a bond.
He has absconded, and unless Ree can either locate him or prove that he is dead, they will all be evicted forthwith. Desperate to save her brother and sister from being taken into care, Ree summons up the nerve to confront the clan's fearsome elders, who no doubt know where her father is hiding -- or buried.
An exercise in less-is-more restraint and sublime poetic realism, Winter's Bone paints a vivid picture of hard, harsh lives in a place where love is scarce and tenderness is viewed as weakness. Based on a 2006 novel by Daniel Woodrell, the film's dialogue is blunt and spare, and laced with a salty humour.
Twenty-year-old Lawrence gives a remarkably mature and assured performance, and there are fine supporting turns from the likes of John Hawkes.
There's not much warmth in the Dolly clan, and cold comfort in a kind of grim honour code, but what there is is the constant threat of sudden violence.