Imagine you're a 16 year-old girl who lives in the Ozarks with a mentally ill mother, a sister and brother that are too young to take care of themselves, and a dad who's in trouble with the law. That's the world Ree Dolly lives in. Her family lives in a dilapidated house in the backwoods. Her father is nowhere to be found and the law is looking for him. Seems he made the bright decision of putting the family's house and land up for collateral to make his bond. If he doesn't show up at his court date, then the state will take the property and sell it off. Ree and her family will be homeless.
The Ozarks are a cold, desolate place, populated sparsely by what can only be described as the Redneck Mafia. Ree's father is mixed up with some bad people, but then again, most everyone Ree comes in contact with are insane, coked-up, or just plain nasty. This is a tight-knit community that keeps their lips sealed tight due to a code that 'no one talks to the cops.'
Ree sets off to find out where her father has gone. If she doesn't find him, and get him to court on the date then they lose everything. She's blasted at ever turn, by thugs and drug addicts. Everyone practicing a pact of silence. Something sinister is happening, but like Ree, we have no idea what it is.
Director Debra Granik paints a portrait of a society that few rarely see. A group of people who value trust and secrecy to the point that it becomes dangerous and unhealthy. Ree is just trying to save her family and their way of life. Everyone else she comes in contact with seems to think that Ree will go straight to the police, and they can't have that.
Ree lives in a patriarchal community where the men aren't only in charge, they are dominant. Women aren't supposed to be strong and courageous. So, when a 16 year-old girl gets in their face and doesn't back down, it doesn't go over well.
It's always fun to discover new acting talent. Here little-known Jennifer Lawrence shows that she has a big future ahead of her. She takes over the role of Ree Dolly, and owns every scene she's in, even when she's acting alongside seasoned actors like John Hawkes. I felt the same way about Jennifer as I did about Carey Mulligan after I witnessed her amazing performance in 'An Education.' Lawrence is going to be a star, just wait.
The tale of Ree crossing the Ozarks to find her father is trying and at times exhausting. It's hard to watch Ree come up against roadblock after roadblock, only to get knocked down again and again. She's a strong woman though, and it's always nice to see a movie with a strong female lead that gives all the alpha males a run for their money. Ree is hard-nosed, and stubborn. In the world that Granik has created she has to be, or she'd be eaten alive.
'Winter's Bone' was filmed with Red cameras, and therefore is devoid of any type of filmic grain. Still, even though it doesn't have that "cinematic" look, it still looks rather good when it comes to a clean, clear image sporting some lovely detail. Even though is shot in the bleak hills of Missouri, with dead trees and dilapidated houses, there's still a ton of detail to be had here. From the individual rust flakes that creep down the Dolly's refrigerator on the front porch, to the grotesque detail of a face after a beating, fine detail fares very well here. The film has its share of very dark scenes, like the scene where Ree and Teardrop are driving along a country highway late at night. The transfer's deep blacks offer a lot of depth to the picture, and cast revealing, defined shadows that never threaten to gobble up the faces of the actors. The scars and freshly bloodied wounds on Ree's face are completely visible, even in the dimly-lit scene. Being a low-budget art house flick that came out of Sundance you wouldn't think that it would fare too well in HD. Some of the other films that came from Sundance haven't, but this one is about as good as can be expected. It's better looking than when I saw it at the festival, but then again, some of the projectors at Sundance aren't the best.
We've got a dialogue-heavy picture here, and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix gives exact right prioritization to the voices. While much of the movie is centered in the front with the dialogue, there is some nice ambiance coming through the rears whenever Ree finds herself outside. Chirping birds, whooshing gusts of wind, and singing crickets all lend their sounds to the overall effect. Another good example of ambiance here is when Ree finds herself searching for one of her relatives at a cattle auction. The sound echoes and reverberates around the room as the auctioneer calls out numbers. As Ree chases the person she's looking for into the back where all the cattle are stored, the echoing moos of the cows create an almost eerie feeling for the movie. It's a tense moment, because you don't know what's going to happen, and that's mostly due to the sound mix provided.
Not only was I wowed by the bleak story of a young girl taking on a world that was completely unforgiving and mean, I was floored by Jennifer Lawrence. This is one of those performances that launches a career, and for my money, she's one of the best young actresses out there. She embodies the role of Ree, giving this movie life, and a protagonist worth rooting for. Her journey is harrowing, and when it all comes to an end you can't help but feel for her. What a fantastic character, and what a splendid actress. This movie looks great on Blu-ray and sounds almost as good. Special features are a bit light, but that's to be expected on a lesser known movie such as this. Overall, this one comes highly recommended. It's one of the best films that came out of Sundance 2010.