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Winter’s Bone chills

Backwoods drama earns its Sundance-driven hype

Debra Granik’s art-house gem Winter’s Bone has amassed an impressive array of prestigious film festival awards on its way to the multiplex. And while a film’s buzz is often just hype occasionally the accolades are justified. Count Winter’s Bone based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name among those that have earned the praise.

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence a wonderful discovery) is just 17 years old and a world away from those preening Disney teen queens. Instead of attending school she’s tasked with caring for her young brother sister and mentally ill mother. When Ree finds out her father has put their house up for his bond she must find him before his court date or they’ll lose their home.

She embarks on a tense trek through the Ozarks which serves as a beautifully bleak backdrop to a methamphetamine-ravaged rural community bound by manufacturing dealing and indulging in the drug trade. Everyone knows something but no one’s talking not even Ree’s uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) who becomes an unlikely ally of his niece as she navigates the mountainside. As Ree digs deeper into the mystery surrounding her father’s disappearance Winter’s Bone takes on elements of a film noir and every door she knocks on feels like a perilous step closer to the precipice.

Granik who also co-wrote the script has a keen eye that lingers over the smallest details (a slowly melting icicle an animal carcass) and creates an authentic experience in every scene by relying on locals in supporting roles rather than professional actors. The children particularly offer strong natural performances no matter what’s asked (a memorable scene involves turning a squirrel into dinner). In taking the time to stay true to the environment and circumstances of the impoverished subjects of her film Granik shows without judgment the harsh realities of survival.

Her professional actors are equally committed to the task. Hawkes a lanky desperate-looking man embodies Teardrop wholeheartedly. The actor so wonderful in the quirky 2004 flick Me and You and Everyone We Know tempers Teardrop’s innate violence with underlying humanity.

Lawrence only 19 years old is absolutely fearless and delivers a fully realized character coming of age in unfathomable circumstances. Ree is quite possibly the most assured portrait of youthful competence and resilience ever committed to celluloid. Her currency is intelligence and instinct rooted in necessity a refreshing concept in the vast wasteland of Hollywood’s typical depiction of teenage girls.

The Wizard of Ozark

Jennifer Lawrence may not be a household name yet but her star-making role as the heroine of Winter’s Bone will definitely change that. Here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what life in the Ozarks was really like for Lawrence.

Your relationship with the local children who played your siblings seemed very natural.

I was a nanny and a babysitter and I’m naturally drawn to children much more than adults (laughs). We started slowly introducing the camera and played a game called “hide your eyes from the camera” because they loved to look at the camera. And then [we] just kind of created a make-believe world.

Did you feel a lot of pressure being the anchor of the film?

It was tough because I’m in every scene and I didn’t get any downtime at all. But you don’t really notice or at least I don’t because I’m not a butthead that I’m the anchor of the film. We were all collaborating and making a movie. I just happened to be more tired than everyone.

The accolades you’re receiving must feel good. Are the offers pouring in?

Yes. A lot of offers. And a few for comedies too. I’m like ‘”Have you seen the movie?”

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