Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik (2010)

The plot here is melodramatic and overcooked, but the performances, setting, and tone are so refreshing I don’t care. When feature films venture into the heart of the heart of the country, they usually leave any capacity for subtlety back home in their lofts or bungalows, but here you actually feel a degree of sympathy for, and an acknowledgment of the complexity of rural poverty. The protagonist’s dilemma–her vanished father has put the family home up as part of the bond he’s skipped on–isn’t fawned over in the usual Hollywood manner (ooh, look at the poor white trash and their terrible problems!); it’s instead simply used as the MacGuffin that gives Granik license to meditate upon and marinate in a culture we rarely see represented onscreen except in the form of cartoons. The movie hits the box office money shot force the moment to its crisis panic button with a sledgehammer in its final passages–which is too bad, because it really wants to be more open-ended than that–but not even chainsawing a cadaver can spoil the tonic of carefully skinning a squirrel in the snow not for fun but from hunger.

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