A Human Experience, by Daniel Bergamini
When I recently reviewed Exit Through The Gift Shop I realized that my top 10 of 2010 list was not entirely accurate. It was with my first viewing of Winter’s Bone that I can admit the major flaws in my list. For months now, I have heard of the fantastic performance in Winter’s Bone by new-comer Jennifer Lawrence, and to be honest, that was never enough to get me into a seat. However, with the recent Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone, I decided to finally sit down and watch the film.
Having heard this film described as somewhat of a detective tale, I was surprised to find something utterly different. The film follows Ree, a 17-year old girl played by Lawrence, as she tries to find her runaway dad. As her father has put up their property as his bond to get out of prison, Ree and her siblings will lose everything in their lives if she is not able to find her father. Taking place in the Ozark Mountain range, nearly every person in this film is desperately poor. What I found immediately refreshing was the lack of manipulation on the part of the filmmaker.
So often filmmakers portraying poor characters will either look down on their subjects or manipulate the audience to feel sorry for them. The director, Debra Granik, does neither, instead she opts to simply present these people as naturally as she can. No one in this film is perfect, in fact many of the characters are down right bad people, and still we do not see condescension on the part of Granik.
It is because of this approach we are able to make our own minds up about the characters, as well as understand them more accurately. The most interesting example of this is the character of Ree’s uncle, Teardrop, played by the fantastic character actor John Hawkes. When first meeting him, we see a aggressive, violent coke -addicted man. However, over the course of the film, we come to understand why he is like this, as well as sympathize with him. Hawkes has been nominated for an Oscar and while this is completely deserved, he has no chance of winning. His performance is transformative and subtle, it is also far too low-key for him to raise enough support to win.
While the film is low-budget, it does not come off this way. It is a story which does not require a large budget and because of this you never once think of the budgetary limitations. Everything from the cinematography to the acting in this film is near perfect, leaving an experience which does not once feel cheap. The fact this is only Granik’s second film is quite impressive, as the camera is confident and assured throughout the film. Her style allows us to see the beauty in these rundown locations, while still seeing the ugliness of this life style.
Of course Jennifer Lawrence’s performance deserves the praise it is receiving, however, the film should be the main focus in all of the praise. It is gripping, punishing and beautiful to look at. Seeing this part of America that is so rarely portrayed on film is quite refreshing and allows for a unique look at American life, one which most people do not know even exists. These people are not caricatures, nor are they perfect. They seem real and because of that, the film is all the more suspenseful and effective. While it may not have much chance at the Academy Awards this year, the simple fact this small film was nominated is a win in and of itself.