If then presidential hopeful Obama instigated controversy about red state rural life that he notoriously characterized as bitter primitives clinging to religion and guns, then the dreary Ozarks outing Winter’s Bone adds plenty of insult to injury. A nearly anthropological contemptuous take on the already broadly caricatured and barely comprehended so-called hillbilly culture, the film is set apart only by its melodramatic rather than satirical approach.
Seemingly set for release on the successful coattails of that other likewise Sundance award winner venture in exploitative underclass tabloid cinema, Winter’s Bone plays out like a seedy and no less cynical white trash version of Precious. Directed and co-written by NYU schooled Debra Granik with a distinct outsider-looking-in perspective as if from another planet, the film plods along in a self-serious sedentary funk, with the characters having little to say beyond what we’ve heard in SNL skits and similar stereotypical fare, many times before.
Jennifer Lawrence as the sole multidimensional character breathing life into this tedious backwoods travelogue, is Ree Dolly, a seventeen year old holding her disintegrating family together. Dad is a cokehead felon fugitive who put their home up as collateral for bail, and the authorities are about to take the property over and evict them. So Ree desperately divides her time as sole caregiver for her younger siblings, and searching for her wayward parent to stall the eviction, while a barely seen or heard mom is pretty much a stay at home zombie. There’s also an assortment of snarling, moronic redneck relatives, submissive women who would never dream of talking back to the menfolk, and unneighborly varmints running interference on Ree’s quest, providing her with false leads when not simply beating her to a pulp.
And while ornery trashy kin and inebriated terrorist hayseeds spend most of their time cooking coke or kicking butt, stoic Ree rustles up deer stew and chops wood instead. When not teaching the tots to skin and gut rabbits, and shoot rifles for survival in the hostile terrain.
Winter’s Bone, despite its captivating wilderness imagery, is nearly as weary an ordeal for the audience as the persecuted protagonist, possibly even more disgusted by her surroundings and the perpetually high lowlife brawling bumpkins than the filmmaker. Who reportedly made this movie in part to address the disturbing rural coke epidemic, but exploiting the misery of others for potential accolades seems more likely.
1 1/2 stars