“An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact.”

Director: Debra Granik
Writers: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, Daniel Woodrell
Staring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Isaiah Stone, Garret Dillahunt
Release Date: July 16, 2010

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 17 year old young women who is taking care of her mentally ill mother, and her two young siblings. Her father, Jessup, is a well known meth-cooker. He has not been seen in a long time, and his location is unknown to anyone.

More trouble reaches the doorstep of Ree’s home when Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) comes over and dictates that Jessup is due in court in a week, but he can not be found anywhere. If Jessup doesn’t show up at his appointed time and date, then the property Ree and her family is living on will be collected. Long story short, Jessup not showing up means Ree loses everything.

Ree is determined to find out where her deadbeat father is, but everyone she asks tells her to stay away, or else. Even Jessup’s brother Teardrop (John Hawks) tells Ree that it is not safe. He has the theory that Jessup has been permanently silenced for talking to the police.

Eventually Ree’s pushing of the envelope resulted in her being kidnapped and beaten by some of the regions most powerful drug-runners and land owners. Thrump Milton (Ronnie Hall) enters the fray as the Godfather of Ozark mountain meth, but before any more harm can fall upon Ree, Teardrop shows up and parlays a safe release for her. However, due to Ree’s shaking of the tree, the tight rope she was walking on to find the truth is now swaying in gale storm winds.

Ree is buried under pressure from all sides. With all the walls closing in, she needs someone to reach out. The only hand she gets are the same individuals who took her captive and tortured her. They approach her door and Ree meets them head on, but is shocked when they say that they will take her to her father’s bones. Ree is blindfolded, taken to a pond, and coerced to pulling up and chopping off her father’s dead, cold, hands from the dark, dirty water. She now has proof that her father did not skip out on his court date. Her father is dead. Dead and buried.

Ree delivers the hands to the Sheriff. She drops the bloody digits on his desk, gives him the evil eye, and lets him know without any words that she gets to keep the house. Not only does Ree ensure that her mom and siblings have a roof over their head, but they also are gifted a large sum of money from a former associate of Jessup. Some hush money, probably. To Ree, and her family, it is a way out and worthy price to pay for stability.

There is something about the isolated mountain range setting. The ultra rustic, rundown and isolating atmosphere sets a tone utterly unique compared to anything shot on a Hollywood lot. Winter’s Bone is not pretty, but the way the ugliness of people is portrayed, is gorgeous. The way of life in those areas, although dramatized, is different from the norm of most movie goers. What makes Winter’s Bone such a strong story is that the journey of Ree and the portrayal of her odyssey is grounded deep in the roots. Lawrence was only 19 years old when she acted out this part, but she has the presence of a mom of five who has seen a ton of shit and is never scared. That is the way she has to be, and Lawrence found that perfect funnel for the affect.

Winter’s Bone sparked the career of Jennifer Lawerence. She is remarkable. Lawrence is able to convey the stubborn confidence of Ree with a dash of desperation and sincerity. The scene where Ree goes to the army recruiter and goes down the darkest timeline of giving up her siblings… that scene was a bit too real. It may help that the recruiter was a veteran and he was giving a real pitch, but more so the dialogue in that scene didn’t hold back. I think the character of Ree is also in a bit in shock because this man treats her with respect on honesty, something that nobody else does with her.

Jennifer Lawrence is really good in Winter’s Bone, but John Hawkes as Teardrop absolutely steals the show. I did not know John Hawkes before this movie, but now he has my attention. When the barn doors open at Milton’s residence and he enters the scene as Teardrop, you can hear a metaphorical pin drop. He sucks the attention of the characters in the room, and the attention of the viewers watching the screen.

Winter’s Bone was nominated for four Academy Awards at the 2011 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes) and Best Adapted Screenplay. All of those nominated are warranted in my book. The movie was also placed on the National Board Of Review’s Top-10 movies from 2010. It joins the likes of, Another Year, The Fighter, Hereafter, Inception, The King’s Speech, Shutter Island, The Social Network, The Town, Toy Story, and True Grit.

Super fun fact. At the time of its nomination Winter’s Bone was the lowest grossing film to be nominated for Best Picture since The Dresser (1983).

If you are looking for a movie that will instill you with happy holiday spirit, then Winter’s Bone is not going to be your ideal viewing experience. But if you want to see how Jennifer Lawrence got into the Hollywood spotlight, and see a relative unknown actor in John Hawks dominate the screen, then Winter’s Bone is the perfect log to throw onto your viewing fire. The movie is dark, dreary, and enthralling. It treats the audience with reverence and doesn’t pull punches when it comes to showing the depravity of drugs and family. It is impossible not to feel for Ree. Lawrence’s performance will have you reeling for a stiff drink in the best way possible.

STANKO RATING: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)

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