Winter's Bone is an incredibly detailed depiction of a particular place at a particular time: the southern Missouri Ozarks, right now, where certain small rural communities have been absolutely ravaged by meth. "You got a taste for it yet?" Uncle Teardrop asks our heroine, 17-year old Ree, late in the film. "Not so far," she says. The spare exchange (typical of the film's dialogue) suggests an inevitability, a sort of fatalistic worldview. And why not? Ree's mother has retreated into insanity. Ree is raising her two siblings on her own, structuring every exchange as a teaching moment, as if she knows at any moment something might remove her from the picture. Her meth-dealing father is AWOL. If he doesn't show to his court date next week, the authorities are coming for their house and land. This all sounds awfully melodramatic, but it doesn't play that way. The film quietly follows Ree (Jennifer Lawrence in an impressive performance) as she searches for her father, making her way through various neighbors and family members (indeed, she shares some "blood" with most of those she encounters, which may feel to some like a redneck stereotype but is, in fact, merely another truth in a film that faces such truths head-on and unblinking). The film, directed by Debra Granik, possesses an eerie sense of coiled violence. The characters Ree meets along her journey feel like snakes who might strike at any second, particularly Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes, in an Oscar-worthy supporting role). "I already told you to shut up once with my mouth," Teardrop tells his wife, a line that feels awkwardly written at first until the meaning sinks in a beat later (the next time will be with his fists). Granik, however, often tends to dial back the violence in moments where a lesser film would turn them up, leaving certain confrontations inevitable but unseen. They will occur later in the lives of these characters (but after the movie is over). We are left simply with this line from Ree to her siblings, "I ain't goin' nowhere," which manages to be both hopeful and heartbreaking.
If one has OnDemand and a taste for incredibly nasty film-noir, Michael WinterBottom's contoversial new adapation of Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me is no further away than your television set. Others should steer very clear. The film has a fantastic look to it: this is sunlit southern noir, set in a small Texas town where soft-spoken deputy sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) finally gives way to the murderous impulses that have been brewing in him since childhood. The film's tone is odd--deliberately cold and clinical and detached, which I suppose is meant to mirror Ford's mind but allows for none of the emotion and tension one might expect in the noir world of blackmail and love affairs gone terribly awry (Ford's brutalization of the film's female characters, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, accounts for the film's controversy, particularly the beating of Jessica Alba early in the film, which is hard to take by almost anyone's standards of film violence). The typical noir narration IS in place, however, and there's an interesting tension between what Lou thinks and what Lou does (as if, perhaps, he actually believes the lies he tells people). It all boils down to a bizarrely "meta" conclusion that feels out of touch with the rest of the film but perhaps in keeping with Lou's mind (he tells us once that he sees his life as a "picture show."). If there's a reason for the average filmgoer to watch Killer, however, it's Affleck's performance. In this, and in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and in Gone Baby Gone, he is very good. But yet he's playing a variation on a similar sort of character with a charming surface that masks a hidden darkness. Can he play other roles as well?