The Films of Debra Granik
Down to the Bone
Gritty and real, Winter's Bone follows 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) as she attempts to save her family farm by tracking down her deadbeat father - with Ree's ongoing efforts complicated by a variety of outside sources. It's a simple yet engrossing set-up that's ultimately employed to underwhelming effect by director Debra Granik, as the compelling opening half hour slowly-but-surely gives way to a subdued and almost oppressively slow-paced atmosphere that's rarely as engaging as one might've hoped. The novelty of the film's locale certainly goes a long way towards keeping things interesting even through its more overtly uneventful stretches, with Lawrence's star-making, downright astonishing work perpetuating the movie's consistently watchable vibe (and this is to say nothing of John Hawkes' scene-stealing turn as Ree's volatile uncle). It's clear, however, that the movie's thriller-based elements fall flat as a result of its excessively deliberate pace, and there is, as a result, little doubt that Winter's Bone is never quite able to pack the kind of emotional punch that Granik is obviously striving for. In the end, it's the film's palpable sense of authenticity and its stirring performances that end up compensating for its less-than-captivating narrative - which effectively cements its place as a well-intentioned yet somewhat disappointing piece of work.
Leave No Trace (July 21/18)
Directed by Debra Granik, Leave No Trace follows Ben Foster's Will and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) as they attempt to forge a "normal" existence after being forced out of their (illegal) home within a local state park. Granik has, perhaps predictably, infused Leave No Trace with an exceedingly (and often excessively) low-key vibe that tends to prevent one from wholeheartedly embracing the material or the characters, with the uneventful bent of Granik and Anne Rosellini's screenplay ensuring that the movie is generally as tedious as it is compelling - although it's admittedly clear that the picture benefits substantially from the superb and sublime work of its two stars. (Foster's typically strong work is frequently overshadowed by McKenzie's star-making, completely authentic turn as the conflicted Tom.) The film's gritty and real atmosphere certainly ensures that large swaths of Leave No Trace manage to pack a visceral punch, and yet it's just as apparent that the almost total lack of momentum dilutes the emotional resonance of a few key sequences - with the most obvious example of this a surely-meant-to-be-heartbreaking closing stretch that's instead greeted with an ambivalent shrug. The end result is a passable companion piece to Granik's similarly effective 2010 endeavor, Winter's Bone, and it's ultimately impossible not to wish that the obviously-talented filmmaker would step out of her comfort zone.