Winter's Bone (U.S., 2010) written and directed by Debra Granik, 100 minutes
I would like to highlight some of the smaller films nominated this year. This is a very dark and bleak film (but not without merit of course) and it is interesting that it has been included in the Best Picture category but not the Best Director category - that sort of omission has never made sense to me. I have no recollection of it being released in Canada and only had the opportunity to see it by renting the film. This is director Debra Granik's second feature. The film is based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell.
Growing up in the Ozark woods, Ree Dolly (played by a pretty but grim faced Jennifer Lawrence) is seventeen and has responsibility for a narc'ed out mother and two siblings under ten. She is trying to track down her father Jessop Dolly, who has put their house up for his bail bond and then disappeared. She searches for him through a frightening array of relations and near relations, all of whom appear extremely hostile to her efforts to find him. The reason for this animosity is not immediately clear to the viewer.
Ree's world is populated with volatile, violent relations, a ramshackle cabin in which she must care for her mother who has obviously been damaged by drugs and two younger siblings; an ominous police presence determined to hunt down her father.
She must give her horse to a friend and we know, implicitly, without being told it is because she can no longer afford to care for the horse. Just as we know that soon Ree must educate her younger siblings on how to survive in the Ozark woods if they are evicted. This is subtly and evocatively portrayed: she teaches them how to shoot a rifle, how to skin a fish. She must face the possibility that they will be thrown out of their home with no one to shelter them if their father does not appear in court.
The cast is convincingly chosen - having the worn, stricken faces of people born in the Ozarks to poverty, ignorance, violence and hopelessness. This atmosphere surrounds Ree as she struggles to save her home, herself and her siblings. Her father's brother, Teardrop (Oscar nominated John Hawkes), and her father's father, are brutal dangerous men - prone to violence and determined to stop Ree from finding her father.
There is an explicit reason why the family does not want Ree to find her father. Jessop Dolly was a snitch and many people have a grievance with that. She eventually learns the truth of her father's whereabouts but to reveal more would spoil the plot.
Lawrence has been lauded and nominated for a number of awards and it is very warranted.