Editor’s note: Welcome to the twenty-first of a 33-part series dissecting the 83rd Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read any other posts regarding this event, please click the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!
by Jess from Insight into Entertainment
Every Monday, a theater about an hour away from me shows very second run indie or foreign flicks. It’s usually the only way those kinds of movies make an appearance in theaters near me. Winter’s Bone was released on DVD recently, but thanks to the encouraging comments by Scott and Whitney at Frankly, My Dear and The Mad Hatter, I trekked to the theater to see it on the big screen. They were right – this is a movie that was meant to be seen in a dark theater with no distractions. However, that’s obviously a thing of the past for most people – the DVD will be how most people see this from this point on (though if you have the chance, catch it in any theater you can).
The story is simple: Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) takes care of her younger brother, sister, and infirm mother. Her absentee father has been arrested and in order to get bonded out of jail, he put up their house and land for collateral. Now he’s missed his court appearance and the bail bondsman wants his due. Ree decides she needs to find her father to be sure she doesn’t lose the house and her hold on life. Basically, this was what I knew when I went into the theater, and was the better for it. The only reference in the movie to where it takes place is near an Arkansas border, so the Ozark mountains most likely. Ree is related, in some fashion, to all the people she goes to to try to find her dad, but that doesn’t mean they won’t kill her if she crosses them. There are obviously family feud’s going on, and since they’re all part of illegal meth operations, it’s not surprising they fight to the death (either by blowing up their houses, or actually dumping them in a ‘holler’).
Jennifer Lawrence is amazingly bad-ass trying to stay strong. The gender roles among the families are strong – only women can beat up other women, men shoot other men. They govern their own, and at least at a minimum level take care of their own. There are moments of levity from the tension building as we find out the level of difficulties Ree faces, but mostly they continue to build tension throughout the film, with a few unbelievable moments, a few “jump in your seat, this is going to end badly” moments. One thing that struck me in particular is the relatively unknown status of the actors. There were a few I recognized, but only in a very general sense, and it added to the tension of who would survive or help our heroine. This is a story built on scarcity and minimalism with characters not so much shaped as carved from the cold, cruel landscape of their world.
John Hawkes deserved his nomination as Teardrop, Lawrence’s uncle who won’t help her find her dad because he doesn’t want to get involved. He has the great arc through the movie – being terrorizing and completely unhelpful at the beginning, to finally taking her side and coming in as part of her family at the end. Overall, the pacing, cinematography, and design of the movie are terrific – award worthy in almost every aspect, though it was only nominated for the BIG ones – Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay. I don’t think this movie will pull off any upsets, but I also don’t think there’s a single person who has seen it who would be disappointed if it did. That may be a better lasting impression of this movie than the fact that it won’t win.