Winter's Bone (2010)
Winter's Bone was the indie favourite on several 2010 festivals and award shows, among other things winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. It's a film about rural poverty in the Ozarks in the central USA, where, according to this film, disadvantaged, underachieving families live in dilapidated shacks surrounded by yards full of car wrecks, and adhere to a rigid social code in order to protect their peculiar family pride and illegal methamphetamine production. Our protagonist is the 17 year-old Ree who must act as the foster parent of her two younger siblings, seeing as her mother is an absent-minded catatonic and her meth-cooking father has gone missing. When she suspects something has happened to her father and goes looking for him in the local community, she encounters hostility from some and kindness from others, but at all times an outlandish social code based on loyalty, honour and minding one's own business.
If this sounds interesting, you're partially right. What writer/director Debra Granik does achieve with Winter's Bone is creating a harrowing environmental portrait where the state of affairs seem as bland and insufferable as the colour-drained images she shoots. The only problem is that the story and characters remain equally lifeless, which becomes a problem once the impression of the environmental portrait has settled and the need for plot and development surfaces. Unfortunately, the film has little to offer in this department, and the artistic merit is low; Granik doesn't bring anything personal to her film, doesn't have anything to say, she just lets the more or less eventless plot unfold in a somnambulistic manner, without tempo shifts or climaxes. The only difference between the first and final shot of this film is an envelope of money, which incidentally is not too bad for the heroine, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to take walk out of the cinema with it.
If the kind of community presented in this film exists, I would like to know more about it than what Granik is able to communicate here. And if it doesn't, Winter's Bone is simply a biased, stereotypical look at American rural life, with ultimately wooden performances from defenceless actors and amateurs who get little help from the script. I often like indie films, they tend to bring a sincerity and profoundness to the equation which Hollywood productions rarely match. Winter's Bone, on the other hand, only replicates this formula on an outer level, leaving itself in indie prison.