Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Winter's Bone'
In summer, it’s easy to overlook the small indie films when a raft of new movies float into theaters each Friday, so you may have missed “Winter’s Bone,” a very un-summery sounding film. But please catch it before it slips away.
This finely wrought drama about a teenager’s fight to take care of her family in the drug-infected, poverty-saturated Ozark mountain back country is sure to be an Oscar contender. It all begins when 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) learns that the father, who is never around, has used the shack they call home to cover the bail he's now jumped.
And so begins this unsettling journey into a reality that you want to think no longer exists. The teenager who's had to grow up too fast, the mother too depressed to function, a younger brother and sister who need to be raised, and no money ever. That Ree Dolly looks weary from the first frame is no surprise.
But it's also a story of the kind of grit, independent spirit and unwillingness to give in to whatever hardships are thrown at you that speaks to the sort of country we still want the U.S. to be. Director Debra Granik has captured the beauty and the pain of the region, and with co-screenwriter Anne Rosellini, the heart of Daniel Woodrell's novel, on which the film is based.
The casting is genius, with faces so raw they look newly plucked out of those hills, and the performances are across-the-board excellent. Lawrence’s turn as Ree Dolly is especially breathtaking, and heartbreaking; John Hawkes as her uncle, Teardrop, is fearsome, as is the deadly crystal meth culture, and the making and dealing and dying that come along with it.
"Winter's Bone" an extraordinary slice of a darker Americana. No apple pie here.
Just as I was filing this post, I got an e-mail from MovieReviewIntelligence.com editor David Gross with a rundown on how hot this summer has been for indie films like "Winter's Bone." An excerpt from his email below (And thanks, David):
This has been on my radar for over a month and it's looking quite clear now.... The specialized/indie/art house market is having a very good summer, considerably better than last year. Last year there was a lot of talk about the death of small movies. Lately they are showing vibrancy.
A better collection of movies this year? There is no doubt these are among the best reviewed movies in release. The word about each movie is moving so much faster now -- word-of-mouth, as well as reviews -- in large part because of social media. Good for moviegoers, good for movies, good for critics.
Kids Are All Right -- $14 million (still in release, should cross $20+ million), 91.7% positive reviews
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- $12.2 million, 74.4%
Cyrus -- $7.1 million (still in release), 75.9%
City Island -- $6.7 million, 63.7%
Secret in Their Eyes -- $6.3 million (still in release), 82.4%
Winter's Bone -- $4.5 million (still in release), 90.8%
Solitary Man -- $4.2 million (still in release), 71.5%
Please Give -- $3.9 million (still in release), 82.5%
I Am Love -- $3.9 million (still in release), 77.1%
Girl Who Played with Fire -- $3.2 million, 64.7%
Exit Through the Gift Shop -- $3.1 million, 82.6%
Joan Rivers -- $2.5 million (still in release), 79.8%
– Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles TImes film critic
Photo: Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from "Winter's Bone." Credit: Sebastian Mlynarski/Roadside Attractions