Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Winter's Bone (2010, Granik)

Rating: ***

Not necessarily the chunk of social realism most reviewers would lead you to expect, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone (2010) is actually a hybrid of sorts. Part mythical quest, part neo-Ozark-noir, it’s as engaging as it is generic. The story concerns a 17-year-old Ree’s search for her no-good father in order to keep the house she shares with her ailing mother and underage siblings. Her determination, good sense and resourcefulness are what carries the movie. Like Sam Spade, she engages in a string of ominous conversations under a heavy sky, taking no cues from the weather gods signaling “Caution!”, as they’re always are in noir.

As well-structured and affecting as it is, there’s a sensationalist streak in Winter’s Bone that I found myself objecting to. When the horrific (and fairly gratuitous) dénouement finally arrives – complete with a nightly boat trip, chainsaw-wielding and severed limbs left and right (pun intended) – one may question the purity of filmmakers’ intent. The film is as eager to cash in on a Deliverance (1972)-like dread as it is determined to make a social statement. With its fair share of clumsy, soap-operatic dialogue (“Please, help me this one time!”, cries Dee to her spaced-out mom), Winter’s Bone steers dangerously close to being a comic strip.

The redeeming factor lies in Lawrence’s riveting performance as Ree (as well as some first-rate support she gets all around). Perky, taciturn, focused and clearheaded, she emulates Michelle Williams’ Wendy and Lucy (2008) coup so successfully I wouldn’t be surprised if she had received a call from the Dardennes after Winter’s Bone opened. She measures up against Rosetta beautifully.

[The movie will play as part of the American Film Festival in Wrocław]

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