On day 40 or day 4, I can't imagine a more bleak or despairing experience than Winter's Bone. I haven't shaved in two weeks, I've gained 12 pounds since we started this project, and my right eye keeps twitching in strange ways. So watching this tale set in the most grim, depressing backwoods countryside you've ever seen on film was a perfect collision of life and art – other than my Samoan perma-tan, I'd look right at home with these grimy hillbillies.
Truth be told, I'm not sure I totally recall the movie. I was so cold during the screening – partially due to the air-conditioning and partially due to the film's stark and desolate scenery – that I had to run to my pick-up truck and grab a sweatshirt. The sharp pains in my abdomen (hot dog plus cookie plus coke zero) only added to a state of semi-dazed bliss.
Even without real-world distractions, Winter's Bone would work its icy magic as an excellent "tone poem." Jennifer Lawrence, a sort of hard-nosed teen version of Renee Zellwegger with a tougher voice, is thoroughly believable and haunting as a 17-year-old girl caught in a downward spiral after her criminal father puts their house up for his bail – and then disappears. Lawrence's character – who was hoping to join the Army – is now left to care for her younger siblings and their mentally ill mother, and figure out what happened to dad.
Her journey to solve the mystery is an ominous one filled with every sideshow freak this side of Deliverance. Her encounters with scummy rednecks who may or may not be her third cousins are anything but pleasant…but you do come away from them appreciating her tenacity against the awfulest of odds. You also appreciate it when anyone shows her even the slightest semblance of human compassion. This isn't easy stuff to take, but it's been carefully crafted and has a docudrama "you are there and freezing your butt off too" quality to it. It's a unique, rough and satisfying road to follow. Afterwards, I was grateful for simple pleasures…like taking a bath.
This one will remind you of movies such as Slingblade and One False Move…back when Billy Bob Thornton wasn't a household commodity. Have other hillbilly cinema favorites? Let me know in the comments below!