by Russell Lawrence
This was my first time seeing Winter’s Bone, recipient of the 2010 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. I had no idea that Jennifer Lawrence was in this film and I was excited when I saw her on screen. I’m a big fan of her other roles in films such as Silver Lining’s Playbook and American Hustle. As I understand, this was her first role that catapulted her into fame. Especially since the lead role got her nominated for an Oscar.
Jennifer Lawrence teaching her siblings to shoot (Winter’s Bone, 2010)
She definitely deserves the praise, especially since it was her first major role. I found myself captivated by the plot. Jennifer Lawrence plays the oldest child in a family of three. Her mother is a mute, and has been mentally incapable of providing for the family for a long time. This leaves her 17 year old character to raise her younger brother and younger sister basically all on her own. This is all fine and well, until Lawrence’s character, Ree discovers that her father has not just gone missing, he’s posted bail after being arrested. But, to do so, he put up their house on bond. If she doesn’t find her father before it’s too late, Ree’s family will be forced out of their home.
This story is so simple and yet so complicated. The screenplay and cinematography directly reflects that simplicity. Whenever we see Ree interact with her surroundings, she’s either teaching her siblings how to provide for themselves or somberly walking through the backwoods environment of the Ozarks. When Ree’s siblings aren’t being cared for, we see their carefree ignorance in the form of them playing. The director, Debra Granik, contrasts Ree’s many burdens of adulthood (despite her character only being 17) with her siblings jumping on a trampoline or vaulting between hay bales. Every building in the film is ominously run down. Granik frames each household that Ree visits in cold lighting, almost as if to symbolize the cold nature of the people who live inside of them.
Ree’s only kind neighbor fittingly cares for animals just as Ree’s family seems to do. Similarly, Ree’s uncle, Teardrop, wanders in and out of the story almost like a stray dog. A fitting description; he all at once lashes out, but in order to defend Ree from the pain he has endured. Teardrop definitely became my favorite character in the film, as he represented the closest picture of what Ree’s father might have been like, but also seemed to reflect the result of a family damaged by drug abuse. Still, there’s no doubt that Teardrop cares for Ree and her siblings, and he makes for the most interesting character in the story.
Teardrop, played by John Hawkes, threatening the Sheriff (Winter’s Bone, 2010)
That being said, Ree’s character development was fascinating to watch. While she was always tough, it seemed as though her character’s strongest moment was when she finally cried at the end of the film in the boat scene. This moment of the film was truly harrowing. The fact that it was necessary for Ree to desecrate her own family in order to save it was something that utterly destroyed every theory I had for what would happen in the film. It wasn’t so much as a twist, though, as it was a series of events that I hadn’t anticipated.
Going back to the directorial style, I really enjoyed Granik’s focus on the mundane. One of the most powerful moments of the film was when Ree begged her mother for help, but received not even a single response. As the camera panned upward to the silhouetted trees I remembered scenes from 2016s The Revenant championed by Iñárritu. I had two minor issues with the film: the slow pacing and the exposure. Much of the film felt like filler that may have been important to developing the mood of the film, but I still found myself uninterested at times. Lastly, while I think this may have been to over-whiten the image and help translate the feeling of being cold, I found the overexposure of light in most of the daytime scenes to be distracting.
Still, I loved this film and found it to be beautiful and definitely deserving of the awards. Check it out if you want to see where J Law got her roots in acting.