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Sundance 2010 Review: Debra Granik's adaptation of WINTER'S BONE

Directed by Debra Granik (Down to The Bone, Snake Feed).

Starring Jennifer Lawrence (The Burning Plain), John Hawkes (Deadwood, American Gangster), Dale Dickey (Changeling), Garret Dillahunt (No Country for Old Men, The Last House on the Left), Casey MacLaren and Sheryl Lee.

Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrel, and adapted for the screen by Anne Rosellini and Debra Granik, Winter's Bone centers on 17 year-old Ree Dolly (Lawrence). Ree must track down her father, who has disappeared after putting up the family's house up for his bail bond. In order secure the safety and well-being of her two younger siblings and her mentally ill mother, she must challenge her outlaw kin's code of silence. Risking her life, she must hack through the lies, the brutal threats and clever evasions offered up by her relatives, in order to piece together the truth.

Made up of concise dialogue and a richly developed atmosphere, Winter's Bone has made my Sundance experience complete -- and its only two days in! The movie is somehow able to be captivate you when there is really no suspense going on. The direction and pacing is so precise, that even though it is slow, it never drags. You're completely intrigued and invested in the characters and the story that is unfolding. Some might consider the beginning a bit repetitive, as our protagonist goes around questioning her relatives, but it's necessary to show, as it makes the last act feel as heavy and enthralling as it is. It feels classic in a way, with noir and old-western archetypal qualities.

Much of charm of Winter's Bone is due to the authenticity Granik brings in portraying the close knit-rural community. I consider this hostile family-tree the meth-mafia of the Ozarks, and they inhabit a world I've never quite seen portrayed. It's like taking the Sopranos and placing them in a post apocalyptic world. Because visually, it's very similar to The Road, just not nearly on as epic of a scale. But the unmistakable quality and beauty of the snow covered woods is captured, even with the small budget, thanks to the Red camera -- and of course the director and DP (Michael McDonough).

Jennifer Lawrence gives an eye catching performance to remember. Perfectly cast, you never question her character's determination, or capability. As Ree's uncle, Teardrop, John Hawkes is able to bring such gravity to the character. The talent it takes to so effortlessly take the terrifying and unanimously feared Teardrop, and make him so lovable and vulnerable, yet still so chilling, is awe inspiring.

This is a film I went to, only to kill time between other screenings. Venkman and I chose to see this film on a total whim. As opposed to the other films we have covered so far, we knew none of the buzz surrounding this picture. No expectations whatsoever, a total clean slate. So my Sundance cherry was popped when I was swept away by this movie. It's my first time covering the festival, and the excitement of enjoying something this much, all by chance, fills me with an appreciation and an understanding of the spirit of Sundance.

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