I've been looking forward to Winter's Bone for some time. First there was the Sundance buzz, of course, which led to my early bird prediction of a Best Actress nom for Jennifer Lawrence. Then I read the source novel by Daniel Woodrell, and it knocked me over. Like Sapphire's Push, its bleakness was executed in a manner that was more concerned with presenting an honest portrait than with manipulating the reader's emotions. Finally, the producer of The Myth of the American Sleepover highly recommended it, and did so with such enthusiasm that it shot to the top of my "SEE IT NOW" list.
I'm happy to report that it was not a disappointment. Debra Granik and Anne Rosselini's screenplay remains faithful to the source material while adding some little beats of their own (an added "pickin' session" furthers both the sense of place and the family dynamics central to the film). It maintains the natural feeling of the novel, with director Granik and editor Affonso Goncalves keeping a deliberate pace throughout. Moments of discovery are underplayed and there's no real feeling of climax, and that's just fine by me. Like its source, there's an approach of, "This is how it is, that's life, take it or leave it." And I'm taking it.
Jennifer Lawrence is great overall. When she mouths off to Merab or tries to confront big baddie Thump Milton, you gotta admire her balls, even as you see her desperation. The Boat Scene at the end is a marvel as she registers horror and dtermination. At times, though, you can see the seams, and I wasn't sure if I was impressed with Lawrence's acting or Granik's directing. But hey, don't get me wrong. It's a strong performance and I absolutely look forward to the rest of her career (including a potentially great role in The Beaver).
The supporting characters, though? First of all, the entire ensemble is perfect, so here's some kudos to casting directors Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee. Everyone looks tailor-made for their parts, like they brought cameras into their homes and just started filming. As for the major supporting players, we must mention John Hawkes as Uncle Teardrop. He is not a decent man deep down, but he's fiercely loyal to his niece, and we believe it when other family members scramble upon his arrival.
Best in show, though, goes to Dale Dickey as villainous Merab. She could be played as pure evil, but Dickey does something marvelous with her piercing blue eyes, and suddenly I'm watching a masterful portrayal of a fleshed-out character. The Boat Scene I mentioned before? Her lip quivers as she watches Ree, and I was floored. In her first confrontation with Ree, you see more than threats in her words. When Ree accuses her of not doing good by the family, Merab's look as she says, "Don't. Don't you dare," made me almost gasp. I saw that this was a loyal woman, someone who was willing to do anything to protect her own. Add Dale Dickey to the list of incredible performances to remember at year's end.
This is one of those films whose greatness sneaks up on you. I can't imagine someone getting passionate and crazy about it, but it's definitely a well-made, fascinatingly-acted movie. I'd be up for another round.