So, the Oscars are tomorrow night. And Winter’s Bone isn’t gonna win Best Picture. Jennifer Lawrence isn’t gonna win Best Actress. And the venerated Academy, as always, will totally blow it. While Natalie Portman is up there taking her bows for Black Swan, just know this much — she didn’t deserve it. And when The Social Network or The King’s Speech is crowned the year’s best film, know, likewise, that they didn’t deserve it.
Did you see Winter’s Bone? Because you really should. I’m going to mention that time and again here, so get used to hearing it. The marquee at the Uptown theater here in Minneapolis billed it as “The Ozark Third Man,” and truthfully that’s a pretty apt description. While not wanting to give too much of the plot away, let’s just say that a story comparison with the Welles classic is pretty much inevitable since it revolves around a hell of a lot of intrigue and so-thick-you-can-cut-it-with-a-knife-suspense as teenage accidental-head-of-household Ree (Jennifer Lawrence, in a seriously incredible performance) searches for her lost father who disappeared into the underworld of crystal methamphetamine manufacture just as his family’s Ozark lean-to faced foreclosure and the inevitable sheriff’s sale.
Ree’s mom is a basket case that doesn’t know up from down, so it’s up to her to both find her old man and somehow keep it together for her mom, herself, and her younger siblings. It’s not an easy task, to put it mildly, and her only “assistance” comes from her seriously creepy uncle, another meth-head named Teardrop (John Hawkes, in a killer role that absolutely drips with bad karma) who looks like he might just kill our intrepid young heroine at the drop of a hat in spite of the fact that we keep hoping against hope that there’s some drop of human decency buried inside him somewhere.
Anyway, Hawkes is great, but this is Lawrence’s show all the way. I’ve never seen her in anything before, but we’re sure to see her again and again the years to come, because she flat-out owns both this role and, more generally, the film itself. She’s brave and vulnerable, steady and anxious, fearless and terrified — and delivers it all with more subtlety and nuance any of her more celebrated peers are capable of on their best days.
To be sure, director/co-writer Debra Granik and her screenwriting collaborator Anne Rosellini deserve a lot of the credit here for authoring such a compelling character and constructing such a taut narrative around her(and cinematographer Michael McDonough earns a serious tip of the hat for his capturing of the dark majesty of the rural southern Missouri locations so well —and by the way, a great many of the bit-part players and extras on display here are genuine locals), but Lawrence is really asked to carry an exceptionally heavy load here and she more than succeeds in that task.
As each layer of this mysterious onion is peeled back we’re left with ten new questions for every answer we get, and you know things are bound to get only worse before they get better, the only real question is just how fucking deep this whole mystery goes and what finding the answers out is really going to mean for Ree and her family. You won’t dare turn away, I’ll tell you that much.
And that’s about all you’re going to get out of me, to be frank. Winter’s Bone is a film about which the less said, the better. You literally can’t bear to give anything way to someone who hasn’t seen it. I just hope my sparsely profuse (okay, I know that’s a contradiction, but give me a break, will ya?) words of praise are enough to whet your appetite to get up off your ass and see this flick ASAP. And if you’re still not sold on it, then how about if I tell you that there’s a cameo appearance from Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee, as well? That oughtta do it.
Winter’s Bone is available on DVD and Bluray from Lionsgate as well as on demand at Amazon and on most cable and satellite systems (which is how I saw it so I can’t really comment on any specific DVD extras or technical specs, sorry). How you choose to see it, though, is less important than just plain seeing it, and doing so as quickly as possible.