Editor's note (or, I guess, writer's note, since there is no editor: This is the online version of my weekly newspaper column, but if you happen to be reading this and don't live in Macon, "Winter's Bone" is also out now on DVD, and is my current top rental recommendation.)
I see a lot of movies (probably way too many), but none this year has lingered as long in my head or heart as Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone," making it the best flick I've seen in all of 2010. And luckily for us here in Macon, it's being presented this Sunday at the Douglass Theatre by the Macon Film Guild.
Granik's movie works perfectly on many levels - a twisting film noir and a riveting mystery - but at its core its simply the story of a teenage girl who's fighting to save her family in the most desperate of circumstances. And Granik has a heroine who is up to the daunting task presented here in Jennifer Lawrence, a newcomer whose name you will certainly want to remember and whose face you won't soon forget once you've seen this.
As the movie begins, a sheriff's deputy knocks on the door of the Ozarks home that Lawrence's Ree Dolly shares with her two younger siblings, who she protects with determination. He informs her that if she doesn't track down her long-missing father, who is due in court on charges of cooking meth and other rather unsavory endeavors, they will lose their house, which he has put up as a guarantor of his appearance.
From there, Granik's movie takes us very deep into the underbelly of America, the kind of place we might have driven by from time to time but would never think to stop. As Ree pursues the "truth" about where her father is, or at least something close to it, Granik gives the movie an extremely strong sense of place, yet thankfully one with no irony and little false sentimentality.
What she does have for the characters that make up the twisted branches of Ree's family tree is compassion, and that's what keeps this harrowing tale from devolving into simply a horror story (but be warned, though its most extreme act of violence is more implied than splattered in your face, it still hits extremely hard.) And Ree's quest is driven throughout by a hope that manages to shine through all the bleakness.
The main thing that brings this all together so well is Lawrence, who plays Ree with the perfect mix of resolve and vulnerability, conveying both often without uttering a word. "Winter's Bone" has already won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Award for Screenwriting from the Sundance Film Festival (both very well deserved), and if there's any justice, it should add an Oscar too for Lawrence's performance. She's almost matched here by John Hawkes as her uncle "Teardrop" (yes, really), who keeps his motivations tightly wrapped as he guides Ree through this warped world.
What Granik has managed to concoct here is both a compelling coming-of-age-way-too-fast tale and an unforgettable Midwestern Gothic, and a movie that I highly recommend checking out this Sunday at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Douglass Theatre.
As for me, however, I won't be there, because I'm going on vacation (as you read this in the newspaper, I actually already am), which for me means more movies, this time at the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival with my parents. And which means also that this column will not appear next week, but will return after that, hopefully with some rental ideas from the festival.