OscaRank: “Winter’s Bone”, Thugs and Harmony

This one hits close to home.

Winter’s Bone opens up a world that some may feel is fictitious but I can confirm first hand that places like this still do exist in this futuristic year of 2011.  Not the story itself…that would be messed up. But I can relate to the living conditions and the cliquish quality of rural backwoods communities. I knew areas like this where I grew up.

This mystery drama covers about a one week period in the life of 17 year old Ree Dolly (the engaging Jennifer Lawrence) as she tries to track down her deadbeat daddy who’s wanted by the police and who put their house up for collateral against a bond. If her father doesn’t show up for court in a week’s time, her and her family will be left homeless. Ree is on her own raising her younger brother and sister while caring for her invalid mother so she has no one to turn to except dig into the dank and murky underbelly of this poor rural Ozarks community. She herself is at a crossroads of sorts between potential death and certain homelessness.

The pace is slow and deliberate and perfect for a movie of this nature. The silent looks between characters speak more about how this part of the world lives than the dialogue itself. The people in the community is about as friendly as a cold glass of water in the face. Everyone is slightly off in one way or another. Riddled with drugs, crime and corruption. A place where the community protects secrets from the outside world and anyone wanting to uncover those hidden horrors. And this fear of discovery knits together the people in a strange harmonious tapestry.

Jennifer Lawrence (also starring in the upcoming X-Men: First Class) carries Winter’s Bone with youthful power and fragility. At any moment, you fear for her character’s life as she enters deeper and deeper into the hive to find her father. Ree knows that she could possibly die if she asks the wrong person the wrong questions but she needs to ask them or the alternative would mean doom for her family.

Other notable is John Hawkes as Ree’s uncle, Teardrop. He is her reluctant protector against the thugs trying to stop Ree at every turn. Hawkes shines as the second best portrayal of a drug addict this year (the first is Christian Bale in The Fighter.)

Winter’s Bone at it’s core is a disturbing look at the threatening nature of small town gossip and the kinds of difficult choices that can be left on the plate of a 17 year old when she’s the sole breadwinner. And even though the resolution becomes apparent about half way, the result is no less effective and appropriate. You won’t find many surprises along the way…just troubling images along the route that needs to be taken to get there.

A solid movie from beginning to end. However, I can’t help but think this could be as polarizing as Fargo and No Country For Old Men in it’s taste to people. You’ll either love it or hate it. But I hope you love it. Top 5 movie of the year? No. Top 10? Absolutely.

8 severed hands out of 10

Bones throughout history


OscaRank: He’s Not The Lover, He’s “The Fighter”

Uh-oh! Wahlberg's got his Oscar-brow working!

This is going to sound sacrilege to those movie purists who hate to shake the foundation of established movie masterpieces (i.e. the Citizen Kane‘s , the Casablanca‘s):

“The Fighter is a better boxing movie than any of the Rocky flicks.”

I even put that in quotations in case anyone in their promotional camps want a good blog-bite that’s cleanly cut out.

Actually, more aptly put would be:

“if you took all of the Rocky movies and mushed it into one two-hour movie, you’d get The Fighter.”

I won’t spoil this exceptional movie for you but suffice to say that even though there’s no Drago (“I must break you!”), there is the seemingly insurmountable foreign opponent.

This true story about the life and trials of “Irish” Micky Ward and his half-brother, Dicky Ecklund, stars Mark Wahlberg as Micky  in the best role I’ve ever seen him in. He entirely immerses himself in the Boston-raised world of the 1990’s. The Fighter follows their topsy-turvy decade stretching from Micky’s consecutive losses in the early 90’s and subsequent hand injury to his return to the ring and beyond to 2000. Those who’ve followed boxing knows his tale. Outside the chaotic hurricane that is Mike Tyson, I never did. So this story was refreshing to me. A story that seems so complex that it would’ve been difficult to make up.

Christian Bale plays Micky’s drug-addled half-brother, Dicky. A former New England Welterweight champ, who’s claim to fame was an epic battle with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978, lives in his past trying to make that improbable comeback. He’s a shadow of his former self that he tries to ignore through his crack addition. The Fighter follows Dicky as he battles his crack dependence. His sorrowful story would be worth a movie on his own but since both characters are so intertwined to each other, it would’ve been difficult to pull off. Does Dicky eventually find redemption? A quick Google search will tell ya.

The director, David O. Russell (Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees), made an interesting choice in dealing with Dicky where he focused much of Dicky’s screen time during the period when HBO was filming a drug documentary on him in 1995 (High on Crack Street: Lost Lives of Lowell). Russell seemed to strive for authenticity by using actual archived footage and even choreographed the fight scenes to be as close to the real fights as possible. And the boxing scenes are every bit as good as you’ll find on any other Boxing movie except maybe Raging Bull. I found myself sitting at the edge of my seat cheering for Micky to win.

Amy Adams (who I’ve always been a fan for her sheer breadth of work) as the sexy and strong-willed girlfriend of Micky, Charlene Fleming, stood out in a sea of Bostonian women (mostly Ward’s sisters and mother). She played Charlene with gentle strength who was not afraid to let the claws out when she needed to. And she does!

Other notables is the actor who played Sergeant Mickey O’Keefe, Micky Ward’s trainer…which was Sergeant Mickey O’Keefe himself. Mark Wahlberg insisted on him playing himself for authenticity to which O’Keefe hesitantly consented. The other quirky notable (and fodder for trivia buffs) is that Conan O’Brien‘s own sister, Kate O’Brien, played one of Micky Ward’s sisters.

Speaking of Conan, did you know that Conan also had a movie short made out of his boxing travails?

The single weak-spot in this otherwise flawless movie is the rather abrupt ending that beckons back to the ending of Rocky II. With the exception of a short scene at the end that ties the start to the finish, the exposition almost seemed like an afterthought…or even a “no-thought”.

But I would gladly watch this movie over and over again.

When the Oscar noms come out later this month, I would be disappointed if The Fighter wasn’t there as Best Picture, Mark Wahlberg wasn’t there for Best Actor and Christian Bale wasn’t there for Best Supporting Actor. Do I expect them to win in either category? Not after seeing The King’s Speech…but I wouldn’t be disappointed either if they walked away with the prize.

The Fighter will pull you in with the quirky and endearing brotherly relationship between Micky and Dicky, will make you tear up when Dicky’s life falls apart, and make you scream in excitement (or maybe shift excitedly in your seat…I want to be realistic here!) during the boxing matches.

So I’ll say again, The Fighter is better than Million Dollar Baby, better than Cinderella Man, better than Raging Bull (except in the fight scenes) and slightly better than Rocky. If you all want to take me out for a boxing match after saying that, I’ll challenge you to a friendly game of Wii Boxing. Winner takes all…where “all” equals “I still get to keep this opinion and you get to say you beat me at boxing.”

9.5 Ward sisters out of 10

Which one's Conan's sister? Place your mouse over the picture!