Debra Granik's Winter's Bone is one of the most genuine movies of recent memory. From the dialog to the performances, not a second of it goes by that feels contrived or manipulative. The film is just about flawless in its depiction of a family scraping to get by in the Ozarks Mountain Country. Some of the most significant scenes of Winter's Bone are the simple, everyday moments such as when the movie's protagonist walks her brother and sister to school, asking them mathematical questions in preparation for a test. The movie is so candid that it will be easy for some audiences to interpret it as bleak and maybe even depressing. While it's certainly not an upbeat film, Winter's Bone is still one of the year's most encouraging pictures about heroism.
The movie's heroine is a 17-year-old young woman named Ree Dolly, played by the remotely unknown Jennifer Lawrence. Her meth-making father has gone missing and is wanted by the police. Ree's mother has been so mentally damaged by her father that she has been reduced to a mute, unable to even take care of herself. It's up to Ree to step up as the head of the family and take care of her much younger siblings. They're able to get by with some help from friends and neighbors. But matters begin to take a turn for the worse when the sheriff shows up one day in pursuit of Ree's father. He informs Ree that her dad's trial is approaching and he put their home up as his bail bond. If he doesn't turn up within the next week Ree and her family will be evicted. With that Ree sets out to find her deadbeat father to keep her already deteriorating family together.
Before I described Ree as a heroine. People often recognize heroes in movies and reality as those in the constant position to save lives. Although Ree has virtually no influence or power outside of her household, she proves to be as determined and courageous as any individual I've seen in some time. She exemplifies the kind of hero we all need in our lives. A person who will never give up in protecting and providing for the ones they love. In a way she's kind of like Melissa Leo's struggling single mother in Frozen River. These are the kinds of women who wouldn't have their names mentioned on the news for their bravery in real life. That doesn't make them any less fearless or determined though.
Another great performance comes from character actor John Hawkes as Ree's uncle, Teardrop. In the beginning both Ree and the audience distinguish this man as a pitiful drug addict and a likely antagonist. Teardrop is an undeniably flawed human being. Throughout the course of the film though, he does prove his affection for Ree and the rest of his brother's family. In some cases he even sticks his neck out for them and puts their needs above his own.
Director Granik magnificently captures the subtly and grim beauty of Missouri. In addition to directing, Granik also adapted the screenplay along with Anne Rosellni from the novel by Daniel Woodrell. Winter's Bone earned them wins at the Sundance Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival. How the film will fair with mainstream audiences and the Academy is up in the air. Whether or not Winter's Bone receives the commercial and critical recognition it deserves this is still a brutally honest film about family and what it means to be a hero.