Saturday, July 24, 2010

Winter's Bone - A Movie Review

I wanted to see a movie this weekend, and decided that it would be either Inception or Winter’s Bone. Inception is the number one movie in America right now, so I figure it will be around a while. Winter’s Bone, however, though it has received rave reviews (The Wall Street Journal called it a classic and compared it to The Grapes of Wrath) and was a big winner at Sundance, is not doing good box office. That made my choice easy. Winter’s Bone, here I come.

Set during the present time in a small, poverty ridden town in the Ozarks, Winter’s Bone is the story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence in a beautifully understated performance), a seventeen year old girl who has taken on the responsibility of caring for her two younger siblings and their sick mother, after the father has disappeared. As hard as her life is, she sees to her family’s needs, with occasional help from a neighbor family, without complaint.

What little her family has is threatened when visits from a sheriff and a local bondsman alert her to the fact that her father, who had been arrested, had put their house up as security for his bond. Since then he has gone missing. If he cannot be found, Ree and her family will lose their home and be “put out into the fields like dogs.”

Ree takes it upon herself to find her father and save her family’s home. Everyone to whom she goes for help turns her away. In fact, the adults in this movie, with few exceptions, have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. While Ree risks her life, they do everything that they can to thwart her. They are numb. Any of them could have been stand-ins for the couple depicted in the painting “American Gothic.”

Finally her Uncle Teardrop (played by John Hawkes, who looks very much like a rail-thin Charles Manson) comes to her aid, though he knows it is dangerous to do so. He knows what his brother has done and the danger it represents, but is finally shamed out of his fear and spurred to action.

This movie is about abject poverty and the strength of character needed to rise above it. The violence is brutal, and yet I did not feel a need to turn my head. Ultimately, the movie is about hope in a place where miracles don’t happen.

I so wanted this movie to end with some rich couple taking Ree and her siblings out of their Ozark home and into fairytale land. But this movie is about real life and does not cheapen itself by playing false.

At one point, Teardrop tells Ree that if she ever finds out what happened to her father, she must never share that news with him. At the end of the movie, Teardrop tells her, “I know.”

“What?” she asks.

“I know,” he says again.

Having been raised in an Appalachian culture very similar to the culture depicted in this movie, I took that to mean that he was honor bound to seek revenge. I may be wrong, though. Perhaps that was his way of saying that he was a dead man, too. If you have seen this movie, I would love to have your thoughts on this.

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