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It’s Favorite Film Friday where I get to share some of my favorite films of all time. Sometimes I intend to pick classics that tons of people have seen and simply elaborate on what I love so much and sometimes I get to unveil a small little independent gem that hardly anyone has seen. This film falls somewhere between the two. While Winter’s Bone was a tiny little independent movie (made for 2MM in 2010 and grossing just over 6MM domestically), it was also nominated for 4 academy awards including best picture.

Before we dive into the review, here’s a trailer of the film in case you’re unfamiliar with it:

Crazy to see how young Jennifer Lawrence was isn’t it? In just 8 short years it feels like she’s aged into a totally different person. I suppose since we’re already talking about Jennifer Lawrence, let’s go into her performance a little more.

It put Jennifer Lawrence on the map

Jennifer Lawrence is the shining star of this movie. She carries the film from start to finish. The film is an absolutely horrific, gritty tale about a young woman thrust into adulthood way too young. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree, a teenager whose dad was on bail and has disappeared, but not before he put up his home for collateral. It’s now up to Ree to find her convict father and convince him to show up in court or she, her two younger siblings, and catatonic mother will become homeless.

This is the kind of movie that makes stars. The writing is so taught and so elegant in this film despite it’s poverty-stricken world that it was primed for an actor with some serious chops to just jump off the screen and Jennifer Lawrence fills those shoes amazingly well.

She is at once both aggressively maternal and sophomorically vulnerable. The fine line she walks throughout the entire movie is a sight to behold.

John Hawkes and Dale Dickey also deserve to be pointed out for their unbelievable performances. They were both flawless in their work on this film. John Hawkes seems to get work pretty often in the independent circuit but I feel like Dale Dickey is criminally underused. She is an amazing talent.

It’s a great example of how you can make any world feel epic

Winter’s Bone is a movie that independent filmmakers should study. It’s the kind of movie you can hypothetically make on a shoestring budget. The 2MM that was spent on this movie was no doubt spent on very talented people (the acting, sound design, music, editing, cinematography, color were all fantastic), but if you are a budding filmmaker with a lot of talented friends and you’re ready to cash in some favors you could definitely make a film like this.

What’s perhaps most amazing about the film is how epic the director makes the world feel. We’re dealing with a world of shacks where people live off squirrel meat. It is not a luxurious life to say the least. Yet within the confines of this tiny world is a structure and a language that makes it feel like a fully realized community with its own rules that operates by its own laws. Several times throughout watching the film I was reminded of The Godfather which is the last film I was expecting this movie to evoke.

I think what makes it so visceral is the detail of the world. With every frame you can feel the dirt on the walls and under the fingernails of the actors. Quick responses with inside slang make the world just come to life in ways that most writers can never quite nail. I’ve never visited a part of America like this but something tells me that the writers have – everything about it feels authentic.

Absolutely brutal emotional swings

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because it’s one of those movies that constantly builds on itself but watching Jennifer Lawrence continually being pushed up against a wall trying to escape her situation is just brutal to watch. Many times throughout the film you’re left to think that it’s either endure this ridiculous pain she’s going through or give up and die. In fact, her mother’s character who has chosen to remain in a silent catatonic state seems like the best choice at certain points in the plot – that’s how ridiculous this character’s situation becomes.

Surprisingly Optimisitc

With all the horror and all the anger in this movie it’s amazing how optimistic it is at certain points. One thing I always seem to ask myself after seeing a movie that has managed to rip out my heart or twist my guts into a ball of knots is “what is the filmmaker saying about life?” The theme or the message of this movie isn’t exactly enigmatic but it is definitely unexpected.

I’m not a huge fan of filmmakers who know how to tap into the emotional core of the human psyche through film techniques and manipulative writing only to have nothing to say when the film is finished. I won’t list any specific directors or films now but there have been a handful of times where I felt like the director just didn’t have a point of view of the world after sitting through what was otherwise a good movie and it was very frustrating.

I will say there are other directors, like David Cronenberg, where I’m certain there is a message but it flies over my head or, conversely, there is a clear message and I just completely disagree with it. I would still prefer to have an enigmatic or uncomfortable world-view than have no world-view – no world-view is infuriating to me.

What happened to the director?

It’s amazing to me that Debra Granik, the director and co-writer of the film, has not made another narrative feature until this year. How does someone go from directing a best picture nominee that also garnered best actor nominations to not working? Unless she took a voluntary hiatus of some sort I just don’t understand what’s going on here.

The film was profitable (although not a blockbuster), it was a critical darling and she successfully launched the career of one of the biggest movie stars alive today. As a result she’s given the opportunity to direct….nothing? She has a film that came out at Sundance this year that looks very very promising but I’m just dumbfounded that it took eight years for her to make another film and that she seems to be stuck at a similar budget level and left to work with other actors who haven’t quite earned a marquee name just yet.

Seeing amazing talent like this knock it out of the park and then not have an amazing career trajectory as a result is soooo disheartening. I hope I’ll find out exactly what happened one day but until then I’m just going to have to wait to see if her next movie puts her on a short list to direct a franchise film or something that would get her working more.


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