Winter's Bone [2010] • USA

"Here's a doobie for the road". Haven't heard that one in years. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to sit comfortably through a couple hours of hillbilly meth heads mumbling through their problems, but Jennifer Lawrence's performance doesn't take long to latch onto. Then Uncle Teardrop shows up. John Hawkes, as Teardrop, nails the role of resident scary guy, and he almost steals the show. A young man of slight physical stature, he is nonetheless able to project frightening unpredictability and intimidation. His character is very well written with a broad development arc, from violent to thoughtful to playing the banjo. The film is worth seeing for Hawkes's performance alone, but it's got a lot more to offer.

Winter's Bone, on the surface, is a backwoods family drama about drug culture, but it's also a good mystery thriller. There are some obvious and unnatural "dialog as character development" moments, and a few scenes inserted to show a little down home familial love and bonding which are a slight cause for pause, but the overall pace is fairly swift and they are easily forgiven, especially when the it rolls out one of the saddest, most thought-provoking endings to a film I've seen in a long time ... well, at least since Confessions. And it's John Hawkes who delivers the death blow.

The ending is not ambiguous. The intended scenario seems fairly clear, but it is open to a number of possibilities. It allows the viewer to sidestep the tragedy if they want to. It's brilliantly written, not saying as much as it says, and it sort of retroactively creates another layer of emotional depth to the film as a whole. I might have been on the fence had the ending come with less of an impact. This is a film that could be a big downer, considering its subject matter, but as written and directed by Debra Granik it clings to the hopeful side of bleak, punctuated and allowed for in the end. Such is the nature of hope.

Director: Debra Granik
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Isaiah Stone, Ashlee Thompson, Valerie Richards


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