The men in “Winter’s Bone” are gruff loners with a violent streak. The women are long-suffering companions resigned to their fate.
Not since “Deliverance” have backwoods characters been portrayed this chillingly on film.
Set among the dirt-poor in the Ozark Mountains, Debra Granik’s bleak, heartbreaking drama follows 17-year-old Ree Dolly as she tries to track down her druggie father, who disappeared after putting his ramshackle house up for bail.
Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), left to take care of her catatonic mother and two younger siblings, sets out to find her dad and save the family’s home. Along the way she encounters a bunch of stonewalling relatives willing to kill to protect their secrets, which involve the local cottage industry of making methamphetamine.
Granik captures their grim world with telling details: threadbare clothes, broken toys, scrawny pets. The dialogue is just as spare, as if words were valuable commodities not to be wasted.
“Winter’s Bone,” which won the top jury prize for drama at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is so real it could almost pass as a documentary. It was filmed in the Missouri Ozarks and many locals were used as extras, adding to the distinct regional flavor.
Lawrence, who appeared in “The Burning Plain” with Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger, is mesmerizing as the fearless teenager. Not even a terrifying trip through a swamp and the sight of a dead man’s hands being severed with a chainsaw can stop her.
Other standouts include John Hawkes as her junkie uncle and Dale Dickey as the stone-faced wife of the area’s crime boss.
Granik, whose first feature, “Down to the Bone,” also involved drugs and small-town life, accents the atmosphere with gray cinematography and a down-home soundtrack. The movie is as harsh and unforgiving as an Ozark winter.
“Winter’s Bone,” from Roadside Attractions, opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ****
“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” opens with a close-up of the septuagenarian’s surgically altered face without any makeup. The shot is shockingly raw and compelling, much like Rivers and this documentary about her life.
Rivers, who turned 77 this week, is probably the most influential standup comedienne of her generation. Her outrageous style has spawned a host of imitators, from Kathy Griffin to Sarah Silverman, and her perseverance through a roller-coaster career is a reminder that toughness is as important as talent in show business.
Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, whose previous documentaries have tackled such serious subjects as ethnic slaughter in Sudan and a man wrongly imprisoned for murder, followed Rivers for a year to chronicle her dogged attempts to stay in the public eye.
They show Rivers performing in clubs, signing books, acting in an autobiographical play and appearing on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Uncomfortable moments aren’t whitewashed. When a man with a deaf son heckles Rivers for telling a Helen Keller joke at a concert in Wisconsin, she angrily castigates him for having no sense of humor. (Rivers told the crowd she doesn’t like children, but would have made an exception for Keller “because she didn’t talk.”)
We also spend considerable time with her offstage, at her palatial New York apartment (“This is the way Marie Antoinette would have lived if she had money!”), hosting a lavish Thanksgiving dinner and dealing with her coterie of aides, including a longtime manager whom she eventually fires.
Interspersed are old clips of TV appearances with Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, who stopped speaking to Rivers after she ditched her regular fill-in gig at the “Tonight Show” to star in her own program on Fox.
Rivers talks candidly about her life, including her husband’s suicide, her numerous plastic surgeries and her knotty relationship with daughter Melissa. She comes across as driven, insecure, generous, petty and -- most of all -- very funny.
“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” from IFC Films, opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.