What to Watch
We are almost through this year’s awards season and the Oscars have once again courted controversy by failing to include any women in Best Director nominations. It does seem to fly in the face of the #MeToo movement and all those congressional ladies dressed in white! There are clearly deserving nominees who have delivered extraordinary movies in the last year such as Lynee Ramsay, Marielle Heller and the director of my movie double this week – Debra Granik.
Winter’s Bone (2010), based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, is the movie that first brought Granik to attention. It also launched the career of a then 20-year-old actress – Jennifer Lawrence. Winter’s Bone is a small crime drama set in the Missouri Ozarks. People of these regions are not always favourably depicted on screen. They can be the subjects of humour – The Beverley Hillbillies (1962), or dread – Deliverance (1972). Granik clearly sees them in a different light and in a Winter’s Bone they are given a proud self-reliance. That nobility is especially embodied in Lawrence’s character, Ree Dolly.
Ree is a 17 year-old who is bringing up her two younger siblings. Her mother is mentally absent, and her father who has spent time in jail for cooking meth, has now gone missing. He needs to turn up at court or the family will lose their house, which he has put up as a bond. Ree has to find him and “like a dog digging after a winter’s bone”, she will not give up. She has remarkable faith that the people around her will eventually do the right thing – though we are provided little evidence that they will. As she tells her younger brother “Don’t ask for what should be offered”.
Lawrence’s performance earned her an Oscar nomination, and as for Granik, it would be 8 years before her next movie.
Leave No Trace (2018) is the movie that Debra Granik next released. Granik considers herself a ‘social-realist’ filmmaker, which explains the gap between her films. These stories are not inherently commercial and hence their financing is a long and gentle process. Her film process is also lengthy and even though her movies are both adaptions, she says she works through a lot of drafts.
Leave No Trace is adapted from the book “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock. The story centers on a father and daughter who are living off the grid in Portland, Oregon’s Forest Park. Ben Foster plays the father, Will, who is a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. The movie is seen through the eyes of his daughter, Tom, played by Tomasin McKenzie. Their peaceful existence is interrupted by a jogger, which sets them on a course of re-integration into society.
Anyone who has seen Ben Foster in the excellent Hell or High Water (2016), will appreciate his quiet depiction of the troubled Will. He clearly loves his daughter but is unable to overcome his afflictions. Father and daughter have an unspoken dialogue that brings great depth to their relationship. Tomasin Mckenzie, who gives a wonderful central performance here, is a relative newcomer from New Zealand. I expect we will be claiming her as an Australian in the near future.
As in Winter’s Bone, Granik uses the surrounding landscape to add an essential element to this movie. She gives a free hand to her cinematographer (Micheal McDonough) to capture those moments. This suggests a thoughtful and generous approach to her direction which clearly enhances her movies. Hopefully it will not be another eight years before we get another Debra Granik movie.