Thursday, August 04, 2011

WINTER'S BONE - A Tale Of True Grit

WINTER'S BONE (drama) Repost for Malaysian readers
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Kevin Breznahan, Isaiah Stone, Shelley Waggener, Ashlee Thompson, William White, Casey MacLaren and Valerie Richards
Director: Debra Granik
Screenplay: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Ashlee Thompson, Jennifer Lawrence and Isaiah Stone

PREAMBLE: It sure took its own sweet time coming to Malaysia but for those who want to see this critically acclaimed film on the big screen, here's the chance - at GSC's International Screens. Winter's Bone is one of those movies where the atmosphere and locations are as much a part of the narrative as the events and characters. In this case, the setting is the Ozarks, an unyielding and unfriendly stretch of wasteland in south-western Missouri. There are no gunfights or showdowns to pump up our adrenaline, yet the movie is rife with conflict and danger provided both by the inhabitants and the environment.

What keeps us involved is the quest of a gutsy teenage girl who must find her father and save her home from being taken over by the State. Most of the time we don't know what is really going on, but that turns out to be part of the enjoyment in watching Winter's Bone.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: It is mostly about Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) a 17-year-old who has to take care of her two younger siblings, Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson), as well as her catatonic mother. Her father, a 'meth cooker' had been arrested by the cops and had put up their house as bond. Her dad's date in court is approaching but he is nowhere to be found. To prevent her family from being thrown out of their home, Ree must look for her father and convince him to show up in court!

This sounds easy under normal circumstances but we are soon to discover that Ree's extended family are all involved in the illegal drug trade - and there's a code of silence that governs all of them. Ask no questions and you'll get no trouble. However, with her family's welfare at stake, Ree has no choice but to 'poke around' - with the help of her uncle, a seemingly cowardly dude named Teardrop (John Hawkes).

HITS & MISSES: Based on Daniel Woodrell's 2006 novel, this is not the usual story about how a gutsy girl fights against the odds to save her loved ones; it is about how she meanders through the need to discover the truth and the clan's code of silence in order to survive in a world that seems alienated from the rest. Ree's home has no television; they hunt squirrels for food and burn wood for heat. She expects charity from neighbours, saying: "Never ask for something that should be offered." It is rather fascinating that such a place still exists in the US - and director Debra Granik captures it well.

Well, the most fascinating aspect of Winter's Bone is the performance of 19-year-old Lawrence (right). Her baby face and chubby cheeks endear her to the audience readily but it is the subtle nuances we see in her expressions that provide the emotional impact of the movie. Hawkes (of TV's Big Love) supports credibly as Dee's uncle.

Winter's Bone is the third feature from Granik. It won two awards at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, including the Grand Jury Prize. It was nominated for four 2011 Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

THE LOWDOWN: This tale of True Grit is both touching and fascinating.


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