Dir. Debra Granik (US)
Screened: Thursday 16th September 2010
Her journey takes her deep into a desolate landscape, and a community that is as divided as it is close-knit, ravaged by poverty and crystal meth. With its long-running blood feuds, suspicion of outsiders and codes of silence, the territory bears more resemblance to 19th Century Sicily or the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier than to 21st Century America.
Throughout the film, Jennifer Lawrence anchors the audience’s attention and sympathies; as Rhee, she is tough, resourceful, and also heartbreakingly vulnerable. As a girl forced to accept a woman’s role in her household, she spends as much time caring for her younger siblings as she does sleuthing. These scenes add depth and subvert the model of the old-school Western hero by foregrounding her femininity with out sacrificing the values of bravery and stoicism.
Lawrence’s extraordinary performance is aided by some excellent support from, among others, John Hawkes as her menacing uncle Teardrop. Ravaged and eaten up from the inside by drugs and guilt, his mixture of savagery and tenderness towards Rhee is terrifying and mesmerising. Garrett Dillahunt is similarly engaging as an awkward local sheriff, and Dale Dickey commands the screen as a grizzled, frightening mountain woman.
Winter’s Bone makes the most of its locations, giving the desolate Missouri woods a stark beauty; the cinematography, using the RED digital camera system, is wonderful and near-indistinguishable from film. For all the darkness and horror contained within, it’s an ultimately uplifting film, about an indomitable spirit withstanding the trials that her location and background bring to bear on her. And while a twisted and malevolent conception of “family” stalks the film, Rhee and her siblings provide a shining counterexample.