Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Week of August 13 to August 19 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Ready for something serious… and seriously good?

WINTER’S BONE is the kind of movie that transports you into a hidden world, and sticks with you long after you leave the theater. The world is the southern Missouri Ozark mountains, home of a fiercely independent, self-sufficient culture -- a raw, rough, ragged place, where life’s guideline is “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

It’s far removed from the world of suburban Washington where writer-director Debra Granik grew up, the daughter of government officials, but she’s managed to create a film so true that, despite its unflinching portrayal of a harsh land, has won the hearts of local residents and played to sell-out crowds at area multiplexes. The film has become a phenomenon, the rare independent movie that is drawing audiences in rural America, not just big city art houses. In some ways that’s a higher compliment than the Grand Jury Prize and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award that Winter’s Bone won at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The story is a tough one. Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly is in charge of and responsible for her two young siblings and a depressed, withdrawn mother. Her absent father is due in court to face charges of cooking “crank” (methamphetamine), but he has disappeared. With the family homestead posted as his bail bond, Ree must find him -- or his dead body, or lose the only thing that enables the family to survive.

There are two keys to the film’s success. The first is filmmaker Granik’s devotion to the place and people of the story. She spent years meeting with local residents, winning their trust, and drawing on them for locations and for talent. Ree’s six-year-old sister is played by a local girl whose own home is the principal set. For a telling scene with an Army recruiter, when Ree tries to volunteer thinking she’ll score a $40,000 bonus, Granik relied upon an actual recruiter who improvised some of his lines. She insisted on filming in the Ozarks and shooting it with a tone and palette that captured the feel of that backwoods region. When you’re watching the movie, you’re there.

The other key is Jennifer Lawrence, the amazing young actress who plays Ree Dolly. She is on screen in virtually every shot. From Kentucky herself, Lawrence seems native to the role, so that you believe her when she tells the bail bondsman she knows she can find her father because “I’m a Dolly bred and buttered.” Yet she was rejected for the role at first because they thought she was too pretty. Managing to get a second audition, she flew from L.A. to New York on the red-eye, and showed up looking haggard enough for the part.

Lawrence is almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination. Hollywood has discovered her, she’s on the cover of W Magazine, and now she’s shooting a couple of big budget horror and sci-fi films. You might not get such a chance to observe her raw acting talent again. Do yourself a favor and see it now.

Rounding out this week’s schedule are holdovers of three popular summer hits: DINNER WITH SCHUMCKS, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE.

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