It may seem simplemindedly daft to describe a film called Winter’s Bone as cold, (like calling rain wet) but unshakingly that’s what lingers long after having seen the film. The dry, cold, pale sunlight of winter at its coldest, the chill that cuts right to, well, your bones. Not to pile the adjectives one on top the other, but Winter’s Bone stirs the sense-memory in a way that very few, very brilliant films do. It’s the kind of thing which makes a film linger, something more than just another yarn of another plucky individual in the face of inevitable adversity.
To get to the yarn itself, Winter’s Bone is set in the rural Ozarks of Southwestern Missouri, and follows the tale of Ree, a teenage girl old beyond her years, left to rear two siblings in spite of her strangely catatonic mother. Their absent crank-cooking father has put the family’s house deed down as bail, and having skipped his day in court the family now faces eviction if he can’t be found. Ree strikes out to track him down, but in a tight-knit, on the brink of feudin’ family community finding someone willing to grass the old man in isn’t going to happen.
This is a society unto itself, where your kin and ‘doin’ right by your folk’ far outweighs the influence and standing of the utterly feckless lawmen. On occasion the film skirts the Appalachian clichés so deeply entrenched by the now monolithic Deliverance, but short of some boss-eyed duelling banjos, Winter’s Bone frames the community without caricature or condescension.
It’s no exaggeration to say the young actress Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Ree carries the whole picture, refusing to resign herself to a situation far beyond her control, persisting when every man and his dog tells her to give up. Not to discredit the otherwise superb supporting cast, but in a character study such as this it’s the leading lady that matters, and Lawrence more than lives up to the task.
For all the tension of the tale, I still can’t shake off the literal feel of chill that the film evoked. It’s anything but emotionally cold, and it isn’t bleak in the way the poverty-line setting might suggest. It’s a community of two worlds; the isolation of the outdoors, the lone bubble of Ree’s puffer jacket struggling to find some answers, contrasted by the warm community of the family which resides in the living rooms of every house. These enclaves of family are carefully guarded, and often each person demonstrably waits until invited across the threshold by the head of the household. You respect these boundaries, and the code it represents, and the drama comes in Ree having to break this code to keep a roof over her head. It’s a simple conceit, but the heart of the film.
I really shouldn’t bang on about how freezing the film felt, as it’s a really tight drama in its own right. Just bring a jumper, because I honestly regret that I didn’t.
Four out of Five.
Winter’s Bone is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 17th of September 2010