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Winter of discontent for young siblings

 | August 27, 2011

The strength of the movie lies in the authentic portrayal of life in a remote mountain area.


(Winter’s Bone) It seems that some of the most thought-provoking movies are either dreary or have much to do with poverty and adversity.

So “Winter’s Bone”, easily one of the best films in terms of content, is built on a shaky foundation of borderline poverty.

It has much to do with a 17-year-old girl’s determination to hold on to her house where she stays with a 12-year-old brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone), six-year-old sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) and an ailing mother.

Young Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is informed by the local sheriff that her father Jessup must show up for a court hearing. Jessup has put up his house as collateral for bail and if he isn’t in court at the appointed date, Ree and family will lose their house.

The Rees live in very much reduced circumstances in rural Missouri in the Ozark Mountains. Their tiny house has only bare essentials and Ree being the only able-bodied person in the house has to cook, chop wood and perform all the other chores required of a breadwinner.

When she hastily promises the sheriff that she will look for her dad in the face of the dire threat of losing her home, she faces hostile relatives, local hoodlums and drug pedlars.

“Winter’s Bone” can bring on sleepiness if a viewer is expecting action-packed scenes which are almost non-existent in the 100-minute show.

The cast consists of generally unknown people. Jennifer Lawrence who plays Ree is a newcomer herself. She hails from Kentucky and surprisingly her acting is superb.

Prolonged despair

She reminds me of a very young Leelee Sobieski who made a name for herself in “Deep Impact” (1998) and the TV movie “Joan of Arc” (1999).

The other actors worthy of special mention is Ree’s uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and Merab (Dale Dickey), wife of the community’s fearsome big shot Thump Milton.

The overall atmosphere of the movie is one of prolonged despair, joyless happenings and dreary surroundings. The only spark of liveliness comes from the country music and songs that occasionally punctuate the run of events.

There were hardly 20 viewers in the 3.20pm show when I was there. One man who was seated in front of me felt so uninspired that he stood up and exercised for five minutes in the middle of the show.

Three other persons who were in the back row were chatting softly throughout the entire movie. I suspected that these people were not exactly thrilled by what was happening on the big screen.

Boring or not, this movie has won 39 awards. It has also been nominated for Oscars in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

As far as I am concerned, Lawrence is a worthy candidate for the Best Actress Award and John Hawkes deserves his place with the big boys for the Best Supporting Actor title.

Before anybody arrives at the conclusion that “Winter’s Bone” is one of the most dreary winners to hit the screen this year, it is important to know that this film clinched the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Movie at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Mentally stimulating

The strength of the movie lies in the authentic portrayal of life in a remote mountain area where the law has a different interpretation for the people.

Drug use is common and serious matters affecting the community are settled by residents who will use their fists and feet, if necessary.

Director Debra Granik, who also co-wrote the screenplay, deserved high praise for the deep sense of realism that she has injected into the movie.

Acting among various members of the cast is splendid. Sometimes it takes some unknown faces to give an independent movie like this a lift that takes worldwide audiences by surprise.

Compared with other movies, “Winter’s Bone” has a relatively low budget of US$2 million (RM6 million).

Some movie critics have labelled this film as “country noir”. According to the Urban Dictionary, country noir is basically country music which has a dark tone and attitude.

The movie fits the description like a glove. It is tearfully inspiring in parts, depressing at certain stages and mentally stimulating throughout.

On a scale of one to 10 for story content, “Winter’s Bone” easily scores an eight. However, I fear it won’t earn “big bucks” at the cinemas.

Fortunately, it recouped its US$2 million capital because as of last week, it has chalked up US$12.5 million at the box office.

See the movie if you want something different. It is a great conversational topic when the subject of indie movies crops up among friends and office colleagues.


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