“WINTER’S BONE”

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In “Winter’s Bone”, seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly — a self-assured young lady living in the backwoods of Missouri with her sick mother and two younger siblings — finds out that her crystal meth-making Dad has been released from jail and is due back in court in about a week.  The problem, according to the local sheriff, is that her father used their house as collateral in posting bond, and if he doesn’t appear before the judge when he’s supposed to, the house will be taken away, along with their land.
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What to do? Well, find him, of course, and make sure he holds up his end of the bargain — otherwise, Ree fears, he might skip out on the court date and leave his family homeless.
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All of that happens at the beginning of “Winter’s Bone”, and it just gets better from there.  Ree has no idea where her father has gone, and enlists the help of family, friends, and neighbors to help her figure it out.  Unfortunately, hardly anyone is willing to even talk to her, much less throw on a coat and help her look for him; she bumps smack into a code of silence that leaves her feeling angry, frustrated, and alone.  And then, when some of her father’s former business associates decide she’s been asking questions long enough, they take matters into their own hands, and — suddenly — the family spread, modest though it may be, isn’t the only thing at risk.
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Ree is played to minimalist perfection by Jennifer Lawrence. There are only a couple of moments in the film when she allows Ree’s resolve to break, and her emotions to burst to the surface — fear in one case, overwhelming grief in the other — but that never means that Ree doesn’t FEEL anything; on the contrary, there is very little she DOESN’T feel.  Love for her father? An almost palpable sense of responsibility toward her siblings? The powerful belief that, no matter what, nothing is more important than kin? It’s all there, right on her face, in every steely-eyed gaze, every look that tells the uncooperative (and occasionally even dangerous) adults in her world, “Hey, I may be seventeen, but nobody pushes ME around.”
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Even the bad guys in this movie aren’t ALL bad, especially Teardrop, her uncle, a thin, bearded, haunted sort well-played by John Hawkes.  We’re not sure if he wants to help her, or hurt her; our initial impression of him is that he is every bit the loser as any of the other men in town.  Eventually, though, he becomes her companion, and even her rescuer — and we realize there is a lot more to old Teardrop than we knew.
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Yet, despite the fine performances of the two leads, “Winter’s Bone” is very much a director’s movie. Kudos to Debra Granik for turning out a film that looks as authentic as it sounds.  (There are so many molasses-thick Ozark accents floating around, I couldn’t help thinking that at least half the actors must have been picked out of a hoedown at the local gymnasium.) And the bleak, slate-gray skies, not to mention the thousands of skinny, leafless trees riddling the Jolly family’s property, remind us that it is, indeed, another Ozark winter.
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Does Ree ever find her father? Do the people she goes to for guidance and support ever HELP her find him? And what about the sheriff and his men? Do they ever get the chance to haul her Dad back before the judge?
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Some critics have called “Winter’s Bone” a thriller.  Others have labeled it a mystery.
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I think, with its focus on the indefatigable Ree Dolly, it’s more of a down-and-dirty character study, myself… and a good one.
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FILM REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien
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