Indie movies are a great thing. When it comes to the art of film you know there’s no truer testament than the Independent, for everyone involved has cast aside the confines of the mainstream and commercial for the realism of artistic passion. If you’re not in it for the money – and with the dry budget of many indie movies, you can be sure they aren’t – then you’ve got to be in it for the art. But for the indie fan, it sometimes just doesn’t work as well as you wish it would.
Sundance darling Winter’s Bone could be this Oscar season’s indie darling too. With many critics including it in their top 10s of the year, you can except to see Winter’s Bone on the Best Picture list at the end of the month when nominees are announced. But, while the film has a few tense moments and a lot of artsy shots of impoverished-looking things, it’s a big indie disappointment.
Based on the 2006 Daniel Woodrell novel of the same name, Winter’s Bone follows Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) on a hunt to find her meth-cooking father who has left her with an incapable mother, two young siblings, and a house up as bail bond. In an effort to save the family home, Ree trudges through an unstable network of family and criminals, uncovering the truth about her father. This could have been riveting stuff if it weren’t so consumed by its indie drear – even a pair of little yellow chicks isn’t enough to lighten the colour pallet of a film drowning in mud.
The best thing the movie has going for it are its performances – they’re indie gold: Jennifer Lawrence as the hard-headed Ree gives a solid performance that the film could not have done without; and no one does poverty better than Dale Dickey, who we’ve seen as a meth addict in Breaking Bad and a hooker in My Name is Earl. The two share the film’s best moments, and are often enough to keep the pace from dragging into deeper layers of the sludge.
The film is a female powerhouse — on-screen and off, the list is largely female — but this technical progressiveness is overshadowed by the all too dreary mud of realism the film adopts. One can’t fight the overall feeling that this probably made a better book. It’s more cryptic in parts than it should be (What’s that? Sherriff who now?), and not as emotionally affecting as it needs to be (Was I supposed to tear up there?). There’s no doubt that chapters of character development and the internal thoughts of Ree likely would have made the bleak bayou canoe ride climax more affecting. Like a novel, Winter’s Bone takes its time, but at 95 minutes, it didn’t really have the time to take.