May 26, 2010

The best socially provocative films do not wear a patch on their sleeves announcing them as such. I am speaking of indies such as Vera Drake and Naked, both written and directed by Mike Leigh, or Matewan, written and directed by John Sayles.

Winter’s Bone is in that league.

Based on the gritty short novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone is directed and co-written by Debra Granik (Down To The Bone starring Vera Farmiga) and Anne Rossellini (who also co-produced). Industry veteran Alix Madigan-Yorkin (co-producer), whose credits include Neil LaBute’s Your Friends And Neighbors provided a steady hand throughout the creative process.

Shot entirely in the Ozarks of Southwestern Missouri, the low-budget Winter’s Bone has racked up Sundance’s 2010 Grand Jury Prize as well as the prestigious Waldo Salt Screening Award.

On the surface, the film is a simply told tale of a daughter seeking her missing father. 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) must find her meth-cooking dad, who has put their house up as collateral for his bail. Ree must locate him before she, her disabled mother and her two young siblings are tossed out into the cold Ozark winter. The search for her outlaw dad takes her through a harrowing trail of loose-knit kin, crazed Vietnam vets, and meth addicts who would sooner kill her as serve her venison stew.

A subdued scene with an actual military recruiter -- which finds Ree attempting to enlist in order to resolve her overwhelming problems -- should leave a massive patriotic lump in your throat. Another key scene that features Ree and some Deliverance-looking relatives rowing through a murky cold swamp at night may haunt you for years to come.

Stunningly exquisite performances, a fantastic soundtrack (including a haunting rendition of the traditional “Farther Along” by Marideth Sisco) and the earthy textural cinematography of Michael McDonough (with the RED camera) clearly make Winter’s Bone the indie film of the year.

For whatever it’s worth to you, in recent weeks Oscar whispers have faintly heard as audiences exited various screening rooms around this town.

Every once and awhile a diamond emerges from the rough world of American indie cinema. Winter’s Bone can cut glass.

[Winter’s Bone opens Friday June 11th at the Lincoln Square and Sunshine Theaters in New York and at The Landmark Theater in Los Angeles.]

Mark Groubert is a screenwriter currently living and working in Los Angeles.

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