Thursday, July 1, 2010

We Raise Up A Little Roof Against The Cold

Winter's Bone (Granik, 2010)

While I sat in the theater watching Winter's Bone I had memories begin flooding back to me, memories of films of a similar ilk. Shotgun Stories, All the Real Girls, and even the magnificent George Washington all stand as similar films to Granik's first feature length film since 2004. In many ways I half expected to see David Gordon Green's name flash across the screen as a co-director, or at least, as is the case with Shotgun Stories, a producer. But it never did, and when the credits started to roll and Granik's name rolled across the screen I had a throbbing desire to check out the rest of her work because, to be quite honest, Winter's Bone is currently a top contender for my best film from the first half of 2010. Granik brings a harshness to her landscapes and its inhabitants that compliment one another brilliantly, a world that has slowly plodded on simply to keep up with the rest of the country. The barren hills and shacks are populated with televisions, stoves, and machinery, but the film's look is decidedly bleak and causes these marks of modern times to echo the citizens.

Ree Dolly, played brilliantly by the startlingly enticing Jennifer Lawrence, is a seventeen year old woman who works as her house by day, caring for her younger brother and sister, and tracks her father Jesup down by night in order to save her home. I watch her on screen and it becomes apparent that, while she appears to be a modern individual, she is like the land. She continues to move on throughout the film, but ultimately she is stagnant and broken down. Her attempts to join the military are ill placed, her attempts to find her father are constantly met with failure, and she is surrounded by drug dealers, users, and violent posses. Lawrence brings the perfect resolve to this character, unwavering determination and drive the face of adversity, and as the film progressions we as viewers become like Ree; without question we continue and hope because we see that, if she can keep watch over her siblings, there is a chance her brother and sister do not have to be contained. I still do not completely know how Lawrence so masterfully captures this resolve, but her turn as Ree is complex and gripping. She is, of course, surrounded by a terrific supporting cast, but just as Ree is the anchor in this world, Lawrence is the film's ballast (side note: this film also reminds me a bit of Ballast.)

What strikes me so much about this film is not only Granik's ability to create such a well developed mood through the characters and the landscapes, but to also maintain a sense of urgency through the script. Very often films of this nature get so caught up in character development that standard 'action' falls by the wayside, and while the characters here, and certainly in other films, are strong enough to sustain a feature length production, the plot's driving force is genuinely intriguing and engaging. Granik lays out the film's stakes so perfectly that we realize the severity of the situation even before events become violent. If the Dolly house is seized a good chance exists that this family is doomed for at least another generation. But the strength of the script does not stop in its ability to weave character study aspects with traditional plot elements; instead, the script even reaches farther to address basic aspects of humanity. The familial unit, in so many diverse forms, is examined, as is the entire concept of humans as social beings. The building of a society and the construction of values. The film's subtext is not only staggering, but truly astounding.

I knew little of Winter's Bone going in, and what little I did know I had expected to enjoy, but in many ways this film is built for me to love. The film is as meditative as it is tense, as layered as it is simplistic, and a rare film that bleeds atmosphere while hardly ever faltering in any other aspect. Winter's Bone contains all the detail and beauty of a wonderfully painted portrait, knock out cinematography, and such an incredibly strong central performance that I imagine Lawrence will be one of the first names to pop up come December when I am making a year end wrap up list. More films should be as expertly crafted as Winter's Bone.

No comments:

Post a Comment