February 13, 2011

Leaving Witnesses

I'm pleased with myself right now! For the first time ever, I have actually seen every single Best Picture nominee before Oscar night. I told myself at the end of last year's event that I would, and I did. Hold your applause to the end please. After churning through the likes of Inception, The Social Network, The King's Speech, and Black Swan, I finally got my mitts on Winter's Bone. I'd been hearing all the raves about this movie from the likes of Jess, Hatter, my mother, and pretty much everyone else on the planet. While I think these raves are a bit exaggerated, Winter's Bone is still a damn good movie, delightfully moody, beautiful to look at, with a wonderful performance by Jennifer Lawrence. It's not as good as everyone says it is, but in now way should that dissuade you from seeing it.

You can't do what I do!

Ree Dolly is only seventeen, and yet finds herself in the position of primary caregiver for her family. Living in the Ozarks demands keen survival instincts, and Ree's parents have none of that. Her mom is a silent, depressed couch potato, and her dad is a meth cooker. When the man of the house skips bail and runs off, Ree must find him before his court date. If she doesn't, she will lose her family will lose their house, and pretty much any hope of lasting. As she goes searching through the town, asking questions of and whatnot, she soon comes face to face with people who would go to great lengths to stop her in her quest. As she tries to wade through the lies and deceit, she must also try not to get killed by those who would prefer her dad stay unfound.

Life in the Ozarks is depressing!

Adapted from Daniel Woodrell's novel of the same name, Winter's Bone moves at a very methodical snail's pace. When I first heard the description of the story, I thought it would a kind of True Grit-esque plot, with Ree setting off into the countryside, searching for her father. That she stays in her town, contending with the locals, is a much more interesting concept. It's tightly written and very clear about what is being given to us; there are a lot of things in the movie that go unsaid.

Jennifer Lawrence deserved that Oscar nom. Though the rest of the cast performs admirably, she outshines them all. Brilliantly understated and nuanced, she walks a precise line, elegantly mixing annoyance, determination, aggravation, and duty into one delicious stew of excellence. We can easily tell that Ree doesn't want to keep on pressing, since it's only going to make things more difficult for her, but she must because her family needs her to. Lawrence fully embodies this quality, and we thank her for it.

John Hawkes is "Teardrop", Ree's uncle, who is at first unwilling to help her search for his brother, but eventually comes around and starts to assist her. I made some quip about how I couldn't fathom how Hawkes could be better than Andrew Garfield to warrant the latter getting dropped from the Best Supporting Actor race. Prognosis after seeing Hawkes? I still can't fathom it. Hawkes plays "Teardrop" like an ammo dump about to explode. Like Lawrence, he's very understated; a lot of the performance comes from what isn't being said. And he's very good, don't get me wrong. I just thought Garfield was better is all.

Everyone else performs well, though Lawrence is the only one you'll really remember when you're done. She's marvelous. I foresee wonderful things for her in the future, as long as she doesn't let her new stardom go to her head. An X-Men movie is fine darling, but this is the world you belong in. It'll be better for you in the long run.


Director Debra Granik has crafted a beautiful, but strangely hollow movie. It's an environment that we haven't really experienced in this medium before, the small, poverty stricken, mountain town. It's one of those small towns where everyone is related to each other in some way, since everyone breeds with each other because they never leave the borders. It's town where knowing how to skin and gut a squirrel is more a useful skill than reading, and the ability to use a gun is a must. It's a dark, depressing tale, and Granik really takes it there, but at the cost of the narrative. She gets too wrapped up in showing us how morbid Ree's world is, that some of the story seems to get lost. I, for one, was a little confused about some things, and had to re-watch some scenes to make sure I wasn't missing anything. It's a really slow movie, and one at which you need to keep your wits about you. 

It is a beautiful movie to look at, though. Granik does a great job of shooting the world and how rundown it is. Though it is set in modern times, the feel of Winter's Bone is decidedly post-apocolyptic. As Ree traverses the landscape, she will often come across totaled cars, run down shacks, and dense, empty woods. A recently blown up meth lab is also a common sight. It's an aesthetic touch quite unlike anything seen last year, and it does a lot in deepening the world. 

Does Winter's Bone deserve the tenth slot for Best Picture? I don't think so. This is the indie film that the Academy had to nominate to maintain their credibility. That's not to say it's not good, it is very good. I just find myself not responding quite as favorably to it as everyone else, despite all the great things it has going for it. Maybe I need to see it again, but, on first viewing only, it doesn't even find it's way into my top 10 of the year. Maybe it was expectations. Maybe I was in the wrong mindset. I don't know. All this negative feelings aside, Winter's Bone is still worth every cent. It's beautiful, slow and methodical, with an amazing and star making performance from Jennifer Lawrence. It's not the masterpiece that everyone touted it up to be, but it's still excellent. 

Man, poor people are depressing!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you caught up with it. I, personally, think it's the best of the nominees, but the least likely to win.