REVIEW: Winter’s Bone

26 12 2010

For a long time, “Winter’s Bone” was a blank box that needed to be checked on my essential 2010 movie viewing.  Now that I’ve seen beside Debra Granik’s gritty drama, the movie remains little more than a box that I’ve checked.  It’s bleak and unsparing, not meant to be anything grandiose or over-the-top, yet in accomplishing this goal, the movie manages to make itself rather forgettable.

At the center of the movie is a fascinating heroine, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), forced to be a mother to her younger siblings as her father has disappeared and her mother is incapable to care for them.  She’s forced to become the best bounty hunter of 2010 (take THAT, Gerard Butler) when she’s informed by the police that since her father put the family home for bond, she will lose it if her father doesn’t show in court.

Commence a search for her father amidst the backdrop of the Ozark drug dealing underworld, where she encounters plenty of unsavory figures with some disgusting meth faces who don’t want her nosing around in their business.  They recognize that she will stop at nothing to save her family, and with Ree’s determination, she could lead the wrong people into their operations and put a pinch on their profits.  She finds one ally in her uncle, Snowflake (John Hawkes), who does his best to protect her.

Lawrence gets the opportunity to play a very strong and courageous female character in Ree, and as the movie’s landscape bores, she keeps us drawn into the action.  The sheer trauma of facing reality and the consequences of her father’s actions is overwhelming, yet Lawrence manages to play it with such subtlety that it fades into the mountains with the rest of “Winter’s Bone.”  I wouldn’t jump straight to awards for Jennifer Lawrence, but my discordant voice is practically inaudible among a chorus singing her praises. B-

Oscar Moment: “Winter’s Bone”

15 06 2010

All is looking good for Deborah Granik and Jennifer Lawrence, two people who you likely hadn’t heard of before this post and almost assuredly hadn’t heard of before this year.

Granik started off 2010 premiering her film, “Winter’s Bone,” at the Sundance Film Festival to massive acclaim.  It won the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic films, a very prestigious award, and was bought by Roadside Attractions for $500,000.  It was released last Friday, June 11, to outstanding critical reception – a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an outstanding 87 on Metacritic.

Looking at the last two winners of the dramatic Grand Jury Prize might show us some potential fates for “Winter’s Bone.”  2009’s recipient was “Precious” (then known by the name of its source material, “Push”), and the 2008 winner was “Frozen River.”

“Precious” had more than just the Grand Jury Prize going for it coming out of Sundance.  It won the Audience Award as well, showing how popular it was with everyone who attended the festival (Mo’Nique also won the first of many prizes for her role in the movie).  It also got the sizzle and added press from its support by Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey.  “Winter’s Bone,” on the other hand, has a release with as little grandeur as its setting in the Ozark Mountains.  “Precious” went on to make nearly $50 million and score a stunning 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and a very good 79 on Metacritic.  As we all know, it received Best Picture nominations from the Golden Globes and Oscars, winning 2 Academy Awards on Hollywood’s biggest night.

I see more parallels with “Frozen River,” the decidedly unglamorous and gritty tale of a desperate mother (Melissa Leo) who illegally smuggles people across the U.S border with Canada.  After winning the Grand Jury Prize, it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics (an expert in marketing independent movies) for $500,000.  They opened the movie in late August to tepid audience reaction, opening with a fairly weak $10,000 per theater average, a statistic that shows that theaters weren’t exactly packed.  Critical reception was much more positive, showed by its 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 82 on Metacritic.  But at the end of the year, people remembered “Frozen River.”  It picked up momentum as the season dragged on, beginning with a surprising SAG nomination for Leo that eventually led to an Oscar nomination over the favored Sally Hawkins.  Leo’s strength undoubtedly helped Courtney Hunt’s screenplay get into the Best Original Screenplay fold as well.

I’m inclined to say “Winter’s Bone” will take the “Frozen River” path mainly because they have very similar, dark tones, a strong female performance, and a well-written script (“Winter’s Bone” picked up a screenwriting award at Sundance).  But the per theater average was nearly double that of “Frozen River,” so perhaps it will have a little bit more audience support to carry it through.  I’m just really not expecting it to receive a massive outpouring like “Precious” because it is “one of the unshowiest and most true-blooded epics of Americana you’re ever likely to see,” according to Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum (who gave it an A).

The movie’s leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence, just screams “this year’s Carey Mulligan.”  Even younger than last year’s Best Actress nominee at 19, Lawrence has been a huge talking point of the movie.  Her breakout role has garnered her large attention from the media, leading to a spotlight from Esquire with a fairly steamy photo shoot.

Granik gave Vera Farmiga her big break with her debut feature, “Down to the Bone,” for which she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and won Best Actress from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.  Don’t quote me on this, but I’m fairly certain that Jason Reitman has stated that seeing her in “Down to the Bone” led to her casting in “Up in the Air,” the movie that got her Golden Globe, SAG, and Oscar nominations.  So while it remains suspect how much love Lawrence will receive for this particular role, all signs point to a promising future for the young performer.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress (Lawrence), Best Adapted Screenplay

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director (Granik)