Sundance 2010 – batch 2

In Winter’s Bone, the 17-year-old daughter of an absent, meth-cooking dad and a barely-present mom has to take care of her younger brother and sister, and has to deal with the grim reality that her barely-scraping-by situation could get much worse. To resolve the mess, she has to cross paths with some scummy and dangerous relatives. So, no dancing in this one. But there were a few authentic back-country bluegrassy folkish living room musical performances that added to the dense Missouri Ozark atmosphere. The real hook of this movie, though, was the taught, crafted dialog, with characters who are victims of their barren surroundings made more vivid by their own limited vocabulary, saying what needs to be said and little else.

In the Q/A that followed the film’s premier Sundance screening, director/cowriter Debra Granik gave due credit to the film’s editor, Affonso Gonçalves, who found the sweet spot of pacing that allowed the audience to soak up the rich detail of the bleak interiors and landscapes but also increased the movie’s pulse over time to build tension. Overall this film was moderately successful as a meticulous study of how people will do whatever it takes to survive, and how they rely on other people for their own strength. B


Ben Affleck is back in Boston, but Will Hunting is nowhere to be found. He and a few other Hollywood heavyweights inhabit the grim corporate world of  The Company Men. Whereas 2009′s wonderful Up In The Air used the corporate layoff process as a backdrop for the growth of its lead character, this movie tells the layoff-related stories of several men at different levels of management within the same downsizing company, and extends the story to include the families and the details of change over time. And it’s that gradual change in the circumstances over time, dollar by dollar, that is the most interesting and powerful aspect of this film.

In the Q/A that followed the screening, writer/director John Wells described the history of this film. He had this screenplay around for a while but it didn’t resonate with the studios until the economy started going down the crapper; then the film fell into place. His research had included interviews with people who had lost their jobs, and from those interviews he gained the insight that the blue-collar workers were able to cope with losing their jobs and houses better than the white collar workers in some ways: The people who built things could point to a car they helped assemble or a building whose concrete they poured, whereas some of the white collar worker’s had measured their accomplishments in terms of the size of their houses and their country club memberships, and when their jobs and houses were gone they really had no lasting work product to point to.

This movie succeeds at telling a resonant contemporary story with strong performances all around, and provides a sobering examination of the relationship between our jobs and our self-worth. B+

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