Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter's Bone (Debra Granik)

Ree in the woods.

With its "Brother's Keeper-like" 'squalor in the woods' visuals and the emotional and economic burden felt throughout the film that echoes that in "Frozen River", I knew that by looking upon those simple parallels, 'pace' is a tertiary concern. Jennifer Lawrence is very effective as the independent, though constantly puzzled female protagonist Ree, using every means to hold her family together, put food on the table, and keep their house from being taken away.

I have to admit that I have fully anticipated some big time plot revelations in the end, as what many films dealing with mysterious disappearances and murders often lead to. With that, "Winter's Bone" has been rather quite exceptional. Instead of focusing on 'whodunit' plot devices, the film's central theme is within the emotional arc and choices of Ree herself.

The sheriff came into their house and told her that his crank-cooking (illegal drug maker) father is a 'runner' from the law, with their house being considered as his 'bail bond'. "I will find him" is Ree's sole answer to the sheriff. With that response, the camera pans into her face. Conflicted, clueless, but ultimately decisive. She will set on to locate her father whatever it may take. But there enters the conflicting duality of her true goal: Is she really trying to look for her father because of the simple idea that he, beyond all that he has done, is still 'family'? Or is she going to find him solely for the reason that they can keep their house? There may be no one that would outright and unconditionally help her in her mission considering the helplessness of her two young siblings, a mother resigned from reality, and a husband-dominated best friend. Her extended family of criminal grotesqueries may even be in on all the troubles, and going into the military is not a way out.

Then there were sequences where Ree constantly looks upon her father's closet filled with his clothes, boots, and a banjo (signifying that she may have really loved her father after all). And then on the other end, she will never let their house let out of her grasp. It's a two-way complication, but one which she is more than willing to resolve. She's compelled, not by outer forces, but by an inner call for order and emotional complacency.

Based on a novel, but with the film's extreme subtlety (though there was a peculiar use of a framed black and white sequence of squirrels and trees being cut down) and constant stagnation, the prevention of it being a cinematic adaptation that may connote and recognize its source material's page-turning quality was the one that was ultimately achieved. Great performance by John Hawkes as Teardrop.


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