It’s a bit unfortunate how peripheral factors can’t help but influence the way you end up viewing movies. I’m almost certain that cynical mood I was in when I watched Winter’s Bone might have made me just a a little less receptive to the small-town troubles of Ree and her family. Incidentally, the unaffected tone of the film prevents the decidedly provincial theme from permeating the movie and turning me (with my severe cynicism) off. Thus, the obvious cinematic experience of the film turns into an interesting experience in what seems like voyeurism. Even though I don’t have the sort of brain willing to immerse myself in a film’s narrative, I will say that Winter’s Bone though not my favourite movie of the year is the one which follows its own rules the best. It’s always satisfying when a movie makes sense in its own world.
Narrative-wise the plot is simple, painfully so even. Ree is seventeen and in charge of her two younger siblings. Her mother is on the way to being catatonic and her father is due for court but missing. Their family house is a portion of his bond, and if he doesn’t turn up their house if forfeited. Naturally, he doesn’t. Winter’s Bone is not about plot, to be honest I’m not sure it’s about style either. Neither is particularly riveting. If anything, Winter’s Bone is about its performances – its lead performance to be exact. The film depends completely on Jennifer Lawrence’s ability to convince us of our plight. What makes her task difficult is that Debra Grankik (writer and director) doesn’t care to make the film whimsical, not in the slightest. The only bits of the narrative presented are the essentials – tearful confrontations are scant, and when present not romanticised in the least. Lawrence’s gift is her ability to reveal key bits of characters in a way that’s so natural it seems almost documentary-like. True, movies are movies but Winter’s Bone is the type of film that works in spite of (or maybe even because of) its capacity to seem pragmatic.
Oddly, it’s Lawrence’s ability to balance the film on her shoulders that ends up working out as a detractor of sorts. True, John Hawkes turns in a fair supporting effort but the narrative is interested in Ree at the expense of the supporting cast. In its defence, Winter’s Bone works better than films of the type – say Fish Tank for example – because it knows its limits. I wasn’t a big fan of Fish Tank because in its pseudo-naturalistic way it loses sight of its plot. Winter’s Bone works because of its singular plot. It doesn’t get preachy, even if the ending was just a little too sweet for my cynical self though. Cynicism aside, though, even I could take note of a good film when I see it. Winter’s Bone is not a perfect film, and in the grander scheme of things Jennifer Lawrence’s performance trumps the actual film. But in a year where the pickings seem woefully slim I’ll take what I can get - Winter’s Bone is a keeper.
[I know I promised more material in November, but seriously Uni – University, not Univarn – is kicking my ass. Review of The Social Network soon though...]