(23 JUL 2010 - New update about sound problems at end of post)
Part I - Setting the stage...
Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell.
Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly (seventeen, in the movie) is trying to support two younger siblings, and a mother who is no longer quite all there, in the Missouri Ozarks.
The local deputy-sheriff drives up and informs her that her father, Jessup (out on bail for running a crystal meth lab), hasn't shown up for his court date and, Oh by the way, had signed over everything for his bond.
She has maybe a week to find him and haul his ass back, or find proof that he's dead, before losing the property and becoming homeless.
Part II - Meet Uncle Teardrop...
Into the situation enters Jessup's brother, Haslam (Teardrop - so called because of three blue teardrops, made with prison ink, below his left eye; each one denoting some grisly prison deed that needed doing, was done, and probably best not inquired about).
He's the first person she goes to in her quest, only to be advised that such poking around is, "a good way to get et by hogs", and that she should know better than that. (Her best friend, Gail, already fearing the worst, supposes "Either he stole, or he told; that's what they'll kill you for here.")
Teardrop has a reputation that precedes him when some local toughs (and they truly are tough) look out of a garage, see his truck approaching, and react "Oh, Sh*t!" and "Let me get something from the car; I don't want to be standing here naked if that motherf**ker's comin' in."
After he has pulled her out of a very tight situation, Ree confesses to him, "You've always scared me, Uncle Teardrop." To which he softly replies, "That's because you're smart".
Part III - And to play him...
John Hawkes as Teardrop - Photo from Winter's Bone website.
John Hawkes has appeared in an amazing number of movies I've seen, some of which I have, including From Dusk till Dawn and The Perfect Storm.
He may be best known, at least to Deadwood fans, as Seth Bullock's partner Sol Star ("the hardware jew", as he was sometimes referred to there) whose best line may have been ONE word when Trixie (the whore he's been shacking up with) ends an argument with, "Well, do you want to get f**ked or not?". To which he replies, "PLEASE!"
At first glance, he may seem a strange choice as he is not in the least imposing physically (sorry, Mr. Hawkes, but that's the way I see it), but there is steel there.
In his character, all he has to do is stand there, quietly looking at you with sad eyes, and the vibe you get (just rolling from him) is, "Son, you do not want to mess with me."
This may be one of the most under-rated actors in the business, because he doesn't work to steal scenes from other actors, but to get the job done. In other words, a professional.
As for the movie itself, it just may be the best of the year, so far. I personally think Hawkes deserves an Academy Award nomination but, since his work is so understated, I wont hold my breath.
As it is an independent film, with very little real support, some of you may not get a chance to see it until a DVD is eventually released, unless there is a local art house theater near you (I am so blessed with one within walking distance of where I live :-).
If you can find a showing within your reach, I promise you it is worth the effort. My only complaint is that the sound quality is not very good, so you really have to pay attention. With my less-than-perfect hearing, I recently devoured the book to better understand some of it (the movie is quite faithful to the book). Here's hoping the eventual DVD has subtitles or close-captioning; I confess to sometimes needing them.
UPDATE - 18 JUL 2010 - The movie has wider distribution than I thought. Check out the official website (linked under the photo). They list theaters where it is currently playing, or about to.
UPDATE - 23 JUL 2010 - This post was (and still is) primarily about John Hawkes, but at the end of the original post I had noted sound problems making much of the dialog inaudible.
After a few rounds here, and in comments on http://maridethsisco.com (blog of Marideth Sisco, music consultant and singer in the film) and on http://moonmooring.wordpress.com/ (blog of Sarah, who oversees Marideth's blog), I got this reply on Marideth's blog...
About the sound problem, I’m advised by the director that similar problems have occurred when the theater playing the film fails to notice the attached tag that says the movie is to be played at Dolby sound level 7.5 — Most films being shown these days are so full of explosions and very loud special effects that if played at 7.5 it would blow their speakers, so they play the audio set at Dolby 5. At that level the WB sound is very muddy.
I emailed this info to the customer service departments of the Landmark theater chain (which runs the theater I went to) and
The latter replied, thanking me for the heads up, and promised to get with the theater to see what was going on.
Apparently, they did. Tonight's showing was much better as far as audio goes; while I still had to strain in a few places to catch some of the dialog, it was infinitely better than before. The remaining part of my problems can probably be attributed to hearing I have already described as a bit "less than perfect". Because of that last caveat, I still hope for captioning on the DVD.
But, in the meantime, there is at least one theater in this area that is now playing it the way it was meant to. So, I feel I have managed to accomplish something worthwhile. :-)