Review: “Winter’s Bone” (2010), starring Jennifer Lawrence
Review summary: The first in a series of standout performances for Lawrence, in an excellent independent film.
Directed by: Debra Granik.
Yesterday I wrote about searching for the development of Oscar-winning acting in the films of Matthew McConaughey that preceded Dallas Buyers Club. Today, I focus on Jennifer Lawrence, who won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role last year for her work in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).
Lawrence is also well known for her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012) — for which she won the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA’s Saturn Award for Best Actress in 2013 — and in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013). She is currently in the running at next month’s Oscars for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for her work in American Hustle (2013).
Winter’s Bone was the breakout movie for this young actress. It won the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 26th annual Sundance Film Festival (2010) and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Leading Actress for Lawrence’s role as Ree Dolly. It is based on a novel of the same title by Daniel Woodrell, who is known for writing in the genre of “country noir,” a term that he coined. Woodrell lives in the same area of the Missouri Ozarks in which the action of Winter’s Bone takes place.
Ree (Lawrence) is a seventeen year-old young woman who lives in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, where she cares for her mentally-ill mother, her twelve year-old brother, Sonny (Isaiah Stone), and six year-old sister, Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson). Her father, who cooks crank for a living, has been missing since he was released on bail pending trial on drug-related charges. Ree learns that her father used the family’s log cabin and land as collateral for his bail bond. If he does not appear for his court date, the bail bondsmen will take possession of the property. Strong-willed and determined, Ree begins a risky search for her father in order to save her family from homelessness. This quest takes her into the heart of a dangerous local subculture (the members of which are all related by blood to Ree and to each other) that can be described the Ozark Mountains version of Breaking Bad. Initially determined to dissuade her from this task, Teardrop (Hawkes), her paternal uncle, becomes her ally against powerful male antagonists whom she does not hesitate to confront, despite threats, intimidation, and physical assault. Essential to Ree’s mission, however, is winning the cooperation and assistance of several equally strong female characters.
Full disclosure: I have a positive bias towards Jennifer Lawrence because she is from Kentucky, the state where I grew up — even if she is from Louisville and I am from Lexington (U of L and UK are huge college basketball rivals). I also have an automatic interest in any plot (in any kind of text, not just films) that is not set in Noo Yawk (despite the fact that I went to school there) or LaLa Land (despite — or maybe because of — the fact that I have lived in the area). Self-reflexivity can become a tiring trope.
Winter’s Bone is an independent film, not a direct product of Hollywood’s or Manhattan’s film industry, so I can put my snarkiness aside now and focus seriously on the movie as a whole. And what a movie it is:
- a fascinating story set inside a regional subculture with which most audiences probably are not familiar;
- a movie with a strong female protagonist who is supported and opposed by other strong female characters;
- a film that explores the mixture of love, hate, and indifference, of mutual support, bitter rivalry, and exclusion/abandonment, that characterizes extended families in closely-knit communities;
- a trenchant exploration of the vicissitudes of gender roles as they relate to identity, power, and agency, both overtly and covertly;
- a movie with high authenticity. Filmed on location, its casting involved local people, not only as extras, but also as supporting actors (some of whom had no acting experience prior to this movie).
All of these qualities (and more) come together and are brought to life by Lawrence’s especially strong performance in her leading role, expert direction, outstanding cinematography and sound (including the music), and a strong script (based on a fascinatingly original novel).
Film Facts (from IMDB):
- MPAA Rating: R
- Runtime: 100 min
- Sound Mix: Dolby Digital
- Color: Color & Black and White
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1