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Winter's Bone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
15 09 2010

ImageDirected by Deborah Granik

‘Dirt poor' it used to be, now ‘hard scrabble' is the fashionable term for life at the edge of society, focusing more on the positive struggle to survive rather than the passive condition. And that's what we have here. Seventeen-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is already clinging on by her grimy fingertips to survival on the bleak homestead in the Ozark mountains where she looks after her two younger siblings and mute, mentally ill mother. But the already desperate situation gets suddenly worse when she hears that their absent drug dealing father has pledged their house as his bail and gone missing. Only by finding him, alive or dead, can the home be saved and the family kept together.

It's a world familiar in film and often clichéd, but here seen as from the inside it's terrifying and totally credible, men and women with closed faces in shoddy interiors, not so much dispossessed as wearing away, on the edges of society, their farms rotting, their houses tumbledown, now clinging to a bitter and merciless clannishness. Faces that call to mind the Depression Era photographs of Dorothea Lange. That this poverty is the recruiting ground for the army is a further depressing thought, but Ree with her responsibilities doesn't even have the luxury of that aspiration. Her search through the squalid and claustrophobic world of her ‘kin' becomes almost a mythic quest ending in a final nightmare boat ride over a dark lake with grim-faced, witch-like matriarchs.

There are here and there the sad remains of what must have been happier times - a decrepit rocking horse, a family photograph , a banjo, and their music itself provides a softening influence - so often hackneyed but here, as performed by Marideth Cisco, a moment of unexpected mournful beauty, and the only time one of the shabby interiors actually looks warm and welcoming. Granik has found a tremendous set of only slightly known actors, among whom John Hawkes as Ree's uncle Teardrop (great name) is both terrifying and touching. But most impressive is Jennifer Lawrence, her face, seen previously mostly in cute or pouty-sexy mode, here holding the screen with its wide cheekbones and determined stillness, shining, somehow in all the squalor, with decency. She's a good down to earth ‘mother', teaching the kids spelling, shooting and skinning a squirrel, a soft touch when it comes to lost animals, but a fearless fighter to save them from the risk of a homelessness which would mean farming them out to her appalling relatives, to the darkness of a world they seem so far miraculously preserved from. It's a harsh and uncomfortable journey, incidentally beautiful in a perverse, never contrived way, icily gripping.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 6 September 2010

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