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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Winter’s Bone

Modern-day Ozarks in a Southern gothic tale

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A bleak, impoverished stretch of the Ozarks is the setting for the darkly compelling drama Winter’s Bone. In a Southern gothic worthy of Flannery O’Connor, a teenage girl, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), is determined to keep her family from “being put out in the field like dogs.” Their cabin and land are about to be seized after Ree’s ne’er-do-well pa, the crank dealer Jessup, jumped bail. The rumor in the woods is that rival drug runners murdered him. Ree can stave off the eviction only by finding his bones.

Directed by Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone is a sympathetic look at the human condition in contemporary rural America, a desperate country in the grip of methamphetamine. Ree’s mother has retreated into catatonic depression; Ree’s younger siblings depend on her and the kindness of neighbors. “Never ask for what ought to be offered,” she tells her brother in a bit of weird old Calvinist wisdom.

But offers of help are hard to come by when Ree sets forth on an odyssey through the chilly gray woods in search of her lost father. With the impending calamity of eviction hanging over her head, and signs of the covert crank trade all around, she finds hard faces and threats among the drug-addled and strained ties of kinship. “Some of our blood is at least the same—ain’t that s’posed to mean something?” she demands of a cousin, a woman who resembles one of the witches from Macbeth. The plain-spoken dialogue sometimes rises to an almost Shakespearean cadence, endowing rough-hewn speakers with dignity.

Toxins leaking from the meth labs have poisoned the land where Ree searches for her pa, and the menfolk, heavily armed and addicted, have grown suspicious and mean-spirited. Yet, Winter’s Bone is ultimately a hopeful story about the resilience of the human spirit and the feeble light of goodness that can sometimes be discerned in the hardest people.

Opens July 30 at the Oriental Theatre.