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Tuesday 20 December 2011

Film Review: Winter's Bone

You probably don't need me to tell you, since the film was nominated for four Oscars, but I saw Winter's Bone a couple nights ago and thought I'd chip in a recommendation. It's far gritter than most Oscar films, with nary a trace of gloss or glamour, as you'd hope and expect for a film about poverty and meth labs in the rural Ozarks.

Director Debra Granik earned that authenticity by shooting in real locations in Missouri and casting locals in several parts rather than big-name actors. I have a soft spot Southern Gothic and Appalachian stories, and the Ozarks seem to fit the same niche. Although I've never been there, it seemed to me the film's depiction of rural squalor was sensitive rather than exploitative. It never feels cliched even when the banjos come out, which is saying something.

That's an even higher compliment given the film is a full-blown thriller. The plot follows Ree Dolly (Jennifer Laurence), a put-upon seventeen year old carrying for her sick mother and two siblings as she searches for her missing father. It seems her father put the house up for bond before he disappeared, and it's looking doubtful he'll make his court date. One of the things I liked about the movie was the way it put a fresh spin on tried-and-true genre conventions. All the film noir, hardboiled tropes are there - the heroine gets drawn into the "case" through a series of interviews with increasingly menacing figures, all of whom warn her off the trail before they offer a single clue. In some ways the movie reminded me of Brick, which recast film noir in a high school. Winter's Bone is less stylized, and I appreciated the look at poverty and gender politics it took along the way. Full credit to Jennifer Laurence and Chris Hawkes for acting the hell out of their roles, too.

There's nothing remotely seasonal about this post, but if you're feeling a bit over-seasoned, this movie'll cut through the Christmas cheese like a hillbilly's flailing chainsaw. In fact, I liked it so much I think I'll look up Daniel Woodrell, who wrote the book on which the movie is based. Seems he's coined a whole new genre, "country noir," to describe his work. For those of you who've neither read nor seen Winter's Bone yet, here's a trailer to pique your interest:

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