Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Jessup Dolly is missing. We haven’t met Jessup yet in this film ‘Winter’s Bone’ and it’s up for debate whether we ever will meet Jessup, but under most circumstances in these parts, these parts being the backwoods of the Ozark mountains, Jessup not being heard from in a while wouldn’t cause anybody no nevermind. Then Jessup’s oldest daughter Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) gets a visit from the law (Garrett Dillahunt). You see Jessup is a master chef of the drug meth which has landed him in jail on numerous occasions. This particular time Jessup put up his family’s house as bond for his release, the time for Jessup to show up for his hearing is near, and the Lawman has informed Ree that if her daddy don’t show, the house and the land it sits on will be forfeited and Ree, her near comatose mother and her younger brother and sister will be on the street. Or in the forest more accurately because there aren’t a lot of streets where this movie takes place.

Job one for Ree is to track down her daddy and get him to show up for trial. Shouldn’t be too hard since everybody knows Jessup Dolly, right? Plus everybody in these parts seems to be related to each other in some kind of way so Ree assumed that these people would be happy to lend some assistance to help save her home. Ree has assumed incorrectly. While nobody seems to know exactly where Jessup is, everybody encourages Ree, very strongly we might add, to stop looking for him. In fact when Ree’s uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), clearly the most dangerous man in this town, grabbed his niece by the throat to get the point across to the girl that she needs to stop her search, I would’ve heeded those words. Now from what we have seen from Ree in this movie, the kid isn’t stupid and she has a lot of heart but while she’s not afraid of much she is most definitely afraid of Uncle Teardrop. However because of her plight she cannot do what he says.

Around this time it’s becoming clear that something pretty damn serious must have happened to Jessup because as bad as he might be he wouldn’t do this to his family, but wherever he is, dead or alive, he still has to be physically located or the result for the family is the same. And Ree continues her search ignoring the crystal clear

warnings. And don’t think that Uncle Teardrop doesn’t care about what happened to his little brother, it’s just that Teardrop knows that if somebody has done his brother harm, then he’s going to have to do somebody harm in return. And if that somebody is who he thinks it is then the Ozark Mountains are going to run red and Teardrop doesn’t want that, which is why he’d rather not know. Teardrop is psycho, and he knows he’s psycho… but he will do what he has to do. And Ree searches on.

I had heard an awful lot of things about director Debra Granik’s film ‘Winter’s Bone’, with almost all of these things being uniformly positive, but I like to consider myself a free thinking type of guy and I have seen my fair share of slow moving, critically acclaimed, salt of the earth type films which have bored to me damn near to death. Thank goodness that ‘Winter’s Bone’ isn’t one of these films.

As the movie started out it was looking like this was going to be exactly one of those kinds of films, watching Ree care for her family and observing the overcast oppressive atmosphere that the characters we will be following exist in, but I can pinpoint exactly when I knew that ‘Winter’s Bone’ would not be one of those films and that would be when the character of Teardrop snatched his niece up mainly just to prove a point to how serious this thing was. It wasn’t so much the act itself but the manner in which actor John Hawkes performed this act and the message it sent. You see, from that point on John Hawkes has done the incredibly rare thing of creating a character who was now in complete control of this movie, even though he wasn’t on screen all that much. When Teardrop was on screen, he dominated the movie but when he was off screen the character of Teardrop was always a concern. For comparison, think Don Cheadle as Mouse in ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’.

Teardrop has set the tone, now everything else in this film has much greater impact and immediacy. If this guy doesn’t want you to do this, then maybe you shouldn’t this? No doubt the peripheral elements of this film are all woven in nicely, from the dialect, to the dialog, from the way the actors looked to the way the characters behaved to the way the director was able to convey to the audience the harsh lifestyle that these characters exist within. Young Jennifer Lawrence was more than up to the task of carrying this movie with her ferocious performance as Ree, which was critically important since I do believe she was in every single scene in this movie and the film was crafted with a thriller’s sensibility. Maybe not an edge of your seat type thriller, but definitely a movie that never allows the viewer to become very comfortable with what is going on.

That’s all well and good, but I kid you not when I tell you that John Hawkes was the straw the stirs this drink. ‘Winter’s Bone’ is good movie, but John Hawkes and his performance might’ve just made this good movie a great one.

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