Last night I went to see Winter's Bone, Debra Granik's second feature and adapted from a “country noir” novel by Daniel Woodrell. The plot is simple enough: lifelong Ozark meth cook Jessup Dolly put the family home up on bond and then jumped bail. Now it's up to his seventeen-year-old daughter Ree – the sole caretaker of her young siblings and their near-catatonic mother – to track him down; or, as she puts it: “I'm huntin' for Jessup.” The film is set in the impoverished and crystal meth-diseased Missouri backwoods. The cars are ancient, food comes from the land, everyone's takes care of at least a family of animals, and a miasma of sheer violence hangs in the air whenever a conversation starts. Considering that crank is as established in the culture as hunting, that's no surprise. The only genuinely sympathetic adult character in the film is Ree's uncle Teardrop (Deadwood's John Hawkes,) who snorts a key on-screen at least three separate times. Meanwhile, consider, for a moment, how hard a man must be to go around calling himself “Teardrop” in such a male-oriented culture that Ree gets asked if there's no man in her life who could do for her what she's set out to do on her own.
Co. the official movie site
The film follows the standard routine of a noir: a steely character goes about meeting shady – and occasionally, ruthlessly important – individuals, stirring up what shouldn't be stirred by asking all the wrong questions, getting beat up, all while trying to a very certain and very foul endgame. The only difference is that instead of an introspective middle-aged drunk like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, it's Ree Dolly, who despite her age and experience could probably stare down a black bear if things came down to it. Her entire attitude toward her unimaginable situation is summed up in a single scene where, beaten within an inch of her life, she's dragged into a barn full of the cold-eyed, lip-licking, decaying high rollers of the local meth trade. Ordering them to kill her, if they're gonna, she learns her death has “already been set,” and if there's anything else she wants. Replying in the most indignant and impatient tone a battered teenager can muster, she spits out “well, you can help me. Anyone thought of that?”
Co. the official movie site
Having grown up a city-boy, I can't think of any other film I've seen that creates a world so utterly strange as Ree Dolly's Missouri. Everything about the film just stinks of real, even though the characters, with a few exceptions, are static and the pacing is deliberate. The social culture, where one hand bloodies your nose while the other holds your hand on the way toward salvation, is foreign and yet so fully developed that suspension of disbelief was barely even necessary. Check out the trailer below, and see the film if you can.