(2010) director Debra Granik
viewed: 07/19/10 at the Embarcadero Cinemas, SF, CA

Debra Grankik’s film Winter’s Bone is a bit of an antithesis to the summer movie (as a type) and in particular to the summer movies of 2010, which is has been released against (alongside).  A small film, made with no major name actors, set in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, in a world while purely American, is also probably utterly foreign to the average American.  And while the film features no explosions, superheroes, CGI, and does not require digital 3D projection, it does not lack in drama, mystery, or harrowing tension.

Not that such a comparison bears any real fruit, but it’s an interesting contrast to most of the crap that has hit the theaters so far this year.  And it’s gotten the reputation as one of the better-reviewed films out at the moment.

It’s a backwoods story, about a 17-year old girl, Ree Dolly (played by the terrific Jennifer Lawrence), who is caring for her younger brother and sister and mentally-damaged mother.  When the police come by to tell her that her father has skipped out on his bail bond, she finds out that this disappearance signifies not just on the relative unreliability of the man, but puts their house and their land at risk of forfeiture, since it’s what he posted as his bail.  With her mother more or less incapacitated and no other male adult willing to help, Ree is forced to hunt for her father among the secretive and suspicious mountain folk, and she finds that no one is too eager to help her.

The film is both a mystery of sorts and a Western of sorts, with Ree as the strong and responsible figure who has stand up to protect her family, what is left of it.  The people of the mountains are utterly insular and seethe with a violence that is just barely below the skin.  Danger and ruthlessness abound and despite some blood connections to the people she interrogates, she might as well have come from the outside.  She and her mother and siblings are almost at the bottom of the world’s food chain, sniping squirrels for meat, the smallest, leanest source of food that they can readily obtain.

The film has a powerful earnestness to it and takes its world and its characters seriously and humanely, even the more villainous and odious ones.  It’s a frightful world, far away from anything purely modern, with nary a cell phone in sight, and for music and entertainment, old-timey banjo music is played and sung, adding an air of the deeper past to the present of the film.

It’s well-done and quite engaging.  Lawrence is the core of the film, a portrait of strength and self-reliance, but of loss and fear as well.