Evan’s Reviews

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Why you should take time to see “The Martian”

“Everywhere I go I’m the first. It’s a strange feeling. Step outside the rover, first guy to be there. Climb that hill, first guy to do that. Four and a half billion years, nobody here. And now…me.”

- Mark Watney, “The Martian”

Imagine you’re the first person to be alone on an entire planet. You’re in a NASA exploration habitat that was built to last for 31 days. Your food supply is limited. If the oxygenator breaks, you’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks, you’ll die of thirst. If the habitat is breached, you’ll implode. What do you do? How do you survive? Is it possible to make it back home? For astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), dying is not an option.

You’d think a story about one man’s fight for survival on a planet several million years away from Earth would be bleak, but this return to form for director Ridley Scott is anything but. “The Martian” is one of the funniest movies I have seen all year, largely due to Drew Goddard’s adapted screenplay and Damon’s perfect execution of the sarcastic spaceman Mark Watney.

Each time something goes wrong, Watney delivers a line that showcases his optimism and comedic nature. One of my favorite lines comes a little over halfway into the movie, when Watney is forced to ration his food into smaller portions. As he eats a piece of meat the size of a Lego block and half of a red potato, he stares at the camera blankly and says: “It’s been seven days since I ran out of ketchup.”

While humorous moments like this are sprinkled throughout the film, Damon also captures the underlying despair and loneliness felt by Watney, and his desire to get back home.

The scene that hooked me comes right after Watney is marooned on the red planet. As a massive dust storm rages outside of the habitat, a defeated Watney looks through some of the belongings his crew left behind. Staring off into the darkness, he confidently mutters, “I’m not gonna die here.”

Damon’s performance is complimented by those of a large supporting cast consisting of Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sean Bean, who play members of Watney’s crew and the NASA men and women trying to get him home.

When Watney says, “Mars will come to fear my botany powers,” you believe him. His scientific wit is as entertaining as his humor, and you’re for rooting for Watney each step of the way. You cheer with each success, and empathize with each failure.

Ridley Scott and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski bring the desolate wasteland of Mars to life. Scott and Wolski create beauty from the barren world, and with each shot, the vast desert further contributes to the sense of isolation you feel while sitting in the theater.

“The Martian” stands among Ridley Scott’s best work, and Matt Damon provides one of his greatest performances. The scientific wonder the film evokes transcends both of their contributions however, and I am excited to see where we as humans progress in the coming years.

With several Mars-based projects currently being pursued by NASA as well as advancing technological developments, the future looks bright. Hopefully in our lifetime we will have the chance to witness history. Mars colonists will be able to say with a smile, “In your face Neil Armstrong.”

“Everest” to inspire you to climb your own mountain

Snow flurries pierce your face as you lie on the frigid snow. Your hands and feet are frozen solid along with the oxygen tank at your side. As your body starts succumbing to frostbite, you remember that you are not 26,000 feet in the air on the slopes of the tallest mountain in the world. You’re in a movie theater, the air conditioning is turned up a bit and you’re almost out of popcorn.

“Everest” is a visual and emotional roller coaster that retells the fight for survival of several climbers during the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy. The story follows two expeditions, one led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and the other by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the storm that took the lives of five climbers from the two teams.

Rob is a kind-hearted, sympathetic guide who helps pioneer the idea of giving amateur climbers the opportunity of a lifetime. Scott is more carefree and rebellious. His philosophy is that if you can’t make it up the mountain by yourself, you shouldn’t be on the mountain at all.

The film’s performances are one of its shining qualities. While no one stands out, Clarke, Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightly, Sam Worthington, John Hawkes and the rest of the cast deliver several tear-jerking scenes in the movie’s two hour run time. The portrayals make you care about the characters. You root for Rob and his team because of Clarke’s embodiment of a good man, wanting to get home to his wife (Knightly) and his soon to be born child.

While the characters themselves are played superbly, there’s very little development of these characters, and they are placed in an uninteresting story. The movie plays out exactly how you think it will. Tragedy strikes and people die. There’s nothing in the narrative that sets it apart from disaster movies that have come before it, and thankfully the story was not the focal point of “Everest.”

“Human beings simply aren't built to function at the cruising altitudes of a seven-forty-seven,” Rob tells his team at the beginning of the film, and it’s not until they reach what is called the “death zone” that his statement begins to sink in.

The tension builds as the air thins, and each crunch of a footstep has you antsy for a potential avalanche, and for the perfect storm you know is coming. Baltasar Kormakur’s direction and Salvatore Totino’s cinematography envelop you in the icy drama, elevating the experience of the movie and overshadowing its bland narrative.

Over 200 bodies lay frozen on Mount Everest’s slopes today that serve as a reminder for climbers of the price they may pay when pursuing such a feat. For most that set out to reach the summit however, the risk is worth the reward, and the reward comes in various shapes and sizes.

It’s the final destination for professional climbers, the pièce de résistance of their careers. For others like “Everest’s” Doug Hansen, the reward is found in following one’s dreams and inspiring others in the process.

You don’t have to climb a mountain to stand on top of the world. Whether it’s starting your own business, writing a novel or becoming a professional athlete, we all have big dreams and should go the distance to make those dreams a reality. Brian Blessed said it best, “You can’t call it an adventure unless it’s tinged with danger. The greatest danger in life, though, is not taking the adventure at all. To have the objective of a life of ease is death. I think we’ve all got to go after our own Everest.”

Yes. That was the plot twist at the end of the first film: he had been the one who secretly brought them together and guided them throughout the film. His job as a detective was simply a cover to conceal his true identity.

OMG, I totally missed that at the end of the first film, thanks for setting me straight.

Why you should take time to see “The Martian”


I started to watch this a few months ago and turned it off after about 15 minutes...I'm definitely going to have to give it another go.

“Nightcrawler” good, but a few ethical issues linger

Local news stations live and die by the ratings. Whether it’s the royal wedding or a high-speed chase, reporters toil around the clock for the next big story that will increase the viewership and advertising revenue of their stations. When, however, does the next big story cease to be news? “Nightcrawler” highlights the thin line between good journalism and morbid entertainment, and what can happen when that line is crossed.

Despite being credited as the film’s lead, there is no trace of Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler.” Losing 30 pounds to play the part, Gyllenhaal immerses himself into the role of petty thief Lou Bloom both physically and psychologically.

From the opening shots of the film, you can tell that something is off about Bloom. After stealing chain links from a fence on private property, he assaults a security guard, delivers the stolen materials to a Los Angeles construction site and tries to sell himself as a potential employee to the site manager.

Noticing a car crash on his drive home, Bloom pulls over to investigate. Two freelance videographers arrive at the scene shortly after and film police officers pulling the driver from the burning wreckage. When asked by Bloom, one of the cameramen reveals that he and his partner drive around LA, filming anything and everything to sell to the news station that will pay the most. “If it bleeds it leads,” the cameraman tells him. Inspired by the encounter, Bloom pawns a stolen bicycle, purchases a camcorder and a police scanner and begins working as a stinger.

Bloom presents his first clip of footage to local TV news station director Nina Romina (Rene Russo), who describes her station’s newscast as, “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” Bloom adheres to this ideology in his work, exposing his darker nature to the audience. Infatuated with his growing success, Bloom pushes every moral and legal boundary imaginable to get the perfect shot.

Gyllenhaal’s performance is enthralling. Despite the disturbing and sociopathic nature of his role, his character intrigues you. Bloom is passionate. Bloom is driven. Bloom is wickedly smart. He has an eerie charisma about him that seeps under your skin.

Rene Russo is also exceptional. Unlike Bloom, Romina fully comprehends the magnitude of her choices, sacrificing her morality for television ratings. When the thrills of Bloom’s nocturnal crusades are sucking you in, Kevin Rahm’s character, Frank Kruse, serves as the conscience to bring you back to reality. Despite his efforts, the concerns of the honest journalist sadly get swept under the rug by the prowess of Bloom and Romina.

The cinematography and editing by Robert Elswit and John Gilroy fuel the intensity of the acting. Whether Bloom is recruiting his partner Rick (Riz Ahmed) at a diner in the late afternoon or he is pursuing a high-speed car chase in the heat of the night, each scene is an exhilarating experience.

The film’s many shining qualities are only a testament to the thought-provoking script of Dan Gilroy. The scenes and dialogue bring to mind recent events such as the shooting of reporter Allison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in Virginia. In the shooting’s aftermath, there were news websites and stations that chose to run the footage from a video posted online by the shooter, which showed the victims being shot at close range. The ethicality of this has been questioned, as it shows little respect for the victims’ families. Sadly however, footage of this magnitude engages our morbid curiosity, and Gilroy explores this truth as the basis of Bloom and Romina’s actions in the film.

In a 2014 interview with LA Weekly, Gyllenhaal humorously remarked, “There is a Lou in all of us. I don’t know if that disturbs you!” While I think this is far from the case, our culture as a whole contributes considerably to the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Next time you see a brutal or disrespectful video, don’t support it. Don’t promote it. We can change the rating trends. We can rise above the culture.

Loved your review of this movie and I pretty much agree with everything you've said...Gyllenhaal disappeared inside this character who beyond his intelligence and skill at the art of negotiation, had no real redeeming qualities and after everything he did. I really didn't like the way the movie ended with him smelling like a rose...two company vans and his own staff? I just wasn't feeling that at all. There's a review of this movie on my thread.

Loved your review of this movie and I pretty much agree with everything you've said...Gyllenhaal disappeared inside this character who beyond his intelligence and skill at the art of negotiation, had no real redeeming qualities and after everything he did. I really didn't like the way the movie ended with him smelling like a rose...two company vans and his own staff? I just wasn't feeling that at all. There's a review of this movie on my thread.
Yeah the ending was crazy, but I feel that it was realistic. Thanks for your thoughts on the review! I'll be sure to check yours out soon!

“Home” not just for kids

“Let’s go see that new movie with the cute alien!” my girlfriend said as I sighed internally. Animated films are typically not my cup of tea, and out of all the action-packed blockbusters out at the time like “Kingsman” and “Furious 7,” she had to choose the Sheldon Cooper alien flick. However, in every relationship it is important to strive to make the other person happy, so we went to see the cute alien movie…and I was pleasantly surprised by DreamWorks’ “Home.”

Jim Parsons stars as Oh, a whimsical, accident-prone alien part of the race known as the Boov. The movie opens with narration from Oh explaining whom the Boov are, how their society works and their current predicament. On the run from the menacing Gorg, the Boov discover and invade the Earth in a friendly fashion, deeming it a suitable place to seek refuge. After transferring the human population to a remote location on the planet, the Boov effortlessly occupy the cities of Earth and add a personal touch to the established human society.

Shortly after their arrival, Oh decides to host a party for the other Boov in his apartment. When no one shows up, Oh tries to convince Kyle (Matt Jones), a Boov cop who Oh claims is his best friend, to come to the party. Rather than sending a single invite to Kyle however, he accidentally sends a mass invite to every species in the galaxy, including the Gorg. Already not being liked by his kind for his odd and eccentric nature, this mistake results in Oh becoming a fugitive.

While all this is happening, a young human girl named Tip (Rihanna) is driving through the city with her cat Pig after being separated from her mother during the invasion. By chance, Tip and Pig cross paths with Oh as he is fleeing the Boov authorities. Tip has a burning hatred for the Boov because of the invasion, and this is exhibited in her encounter with Oh. However, after realizing that Oh can help reunite her with her mother, Tip reluctantly allows him to travel with her and Pig.

The chemistry between Jim Parsons and Rihanna is the driving force behind the story. Oh is adorable. Parsons and the animators do a great job in conveying the positive attitude that characterizes Oh while also subtly showing the underlying sadness that he feels from being an outcast. The gradual shift in Tip’s demeanor towards Oh and the friendship that develops between them is also fun to watch. Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Matt Jones also do well in their supporting roles.

While the plot is not quite as jumbled as expected, the writing is still the weakest aspect of the film. Oh’s narration in the opening minutes throws the audience right into the world of the Boov and the Gorg in an approach that feels slightly rushed and forced. In addition to this, the Boov speak in a broken form of English not alluded to in Oh’s monologue at the beginning, which made the first several minutes of the movie puzzling for me. Once you're settled into the film however, you will begin to smile, laugh and possibly cry at the comical, yet moving story unfolding on screen.

I have never been a fan of the 3D gimmick. Today it is overused, not used to its full potential and expensive. However, the cinematography in this movie stood out to me particularly because of the way the 3D was utilized in the opening thirty minutes of the film.

There is one shot in particular in which the camera weaves in and out of various rooms and a ventilation shaft in a house. This is neat to watch in and of itself, but the 3D feature makes the viewer actually feel like he or she is in the room, flying amidst the clutter and the small corridors in the ventilation shaft.

Thanks to a star-studded cast, a fairly cohesive script and effective visuals, “Home” is a funny, warm and heart-felt film that will appeal to audiences of all ages. A couple of takeaway points from the experience: never judge a book by its cover, and guys don’t be hesitant to let the lady choose the movie every once and a while, she just might surprise you.

I liked Home. I thought it was pretty funny, with a lot of heart.
I’m glad to hear that someone else enjoyed it! It wasn’t a great film, but I was pleasantly surprised and had a lot of fun with it. I thought it got some undeserved hate/criticism when it came out.

Cumberbatch shines in “The Imitation Game”

Can machines think? This is the main question posed in “Computer Machinery and Intelligence,” a 1950s paper published by Alan Turing. The paper's concepts surfaced in his single-handed design and construction of a machine that broke the German Enigma codes during World War II…or so the film says. While the historical accuracy of “The Imitation Game” comes into question on several occasions, the outstanding quality of the film’s acting, direction and story is no enigma.

The movie focuses on the life of Alan Turing, a British mathematician, computer scientist and cryptanalyst. The British Intelligence recruits Turing along with other cryptographic minds to crack the Enigma codes that the Nazis use as secret communication during the war. The film’s narrative alternates between three significant times in Turing’s life: his education at Sherborne School as a teenager, his classified work with Enigma during the war and the investigation surrounding Turing’s sexual orientation in 1952.

The settings of the Enigma machines change daily as the war progresses. The small group of cryptographers has 18 hours each day to figure out the settings of the machines before the Germans alter the settings the next day. This is a virtually impossible task for the team to accomplish because of the infinite number of possible settings the machine possesses, causing progressive frustration amongst the team. Turing’s initial rudeness, apparent social detachment and unwillingness to work with the rest of the team only add to the growing tension.

Turing conceives, designs and begins to build a machine that he believes will be able to mull through the numerous Enigma settings possibilities at a considerably fast rate. A machine like this has never been built, much less proven to work. His endeavor brings about much skepticism and agitation from the team. Over time however, especially after the acquisition of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly) to the team, Turing begins to treat his colleagues with respect and gains their trust.

To say that Benedict Cumberbatch had an amazing performance at this point in his career is the equivalent of saying the sky is blue, and it remains blue yet again as Cumberbatch knocks it out of the park.

Turing as shown in the film is extremely intelligent but lacks normal social skills. He is not the most likable guy; he has trouble interacting with others, takes everything that is said to him literally and has a sense of arrogance that puts others off. However, there is also warmth about his character and he genuinely desires to be liked by others. Cumberbatch expresses both aspects of this persona beautifully.

The supporting cast is equally fantastic. Those who play the members of Turing’s team (Matthew Goode, Allen Leach, Matthew Beard and Keira Knightly) have great chemistry with each other and Cumberbatch. Alex Lawther as the young Alan Turing mimics Cumberbatch’s portrayal well, and viewers will truly believe the struggles he endures from being different than everyone else.

Graham Moore took home an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on the film, and it's not hard to see why. The well-written script is the fuel for the gripping, emotional drama exhibited in the actors’ performances.

Morten Tyldum’s direction is not to be ignored either. The interchange between the various time periods in Turing’s life are done smoothly, and the non-linear story telling is carried out excellently. The writing, directing and acting present Turing's struggle well as a homosexual in the 1950s and the punishment that he had to endure because of it. While both aspects of the production are good from a narrative standpoint, the direction and the writing is also where the main issue of the movie lies.

In “The Imitation Game,” viewers are led to believe that Turing built the machine that cracked Enigma and conceived its design virtually by himself. In reality however, the Polish Intelligence gave a primitive version of the machine to the Government Code and Cypher School in 1939, and Turing was hired to make improvements on the machine based on his knowledge of computers. Also, unlike the movie portrays; Turing was actually well liked by his colleagues and was placed as the head of the operation until 1942.

This is one of several factual errors present in “The Imitation Game” that range from Turing giving his machine a name, to John Cairncross being a cryptanalyst and a somewhat influential character in the story.

Despite these historical inaccuracies, the movie has received widespread critical acclaim. In addition to winning the Best Adapted Screenplay award, it also received nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.

“The Imitation Game” is a riveting drama with stellar performances, excellent writing and solid direction. Among the better films of 2014, it remains a must-see for years to come.

“McFarland, USA” deemed pleasant and effective

You’ve seen it countless times before. A non-traditional coach takes up a team of misfits and leads it to greatness. Did I mention that it’s based on a true story? Disney has presented viewers with this scenario in several movies such as “Glory Road,” “Miracle” and “Remember the Titans.” Despite this formula being overused and predictable, add in a great lead such as Denzel Washington, Kurt Russell or in this case Kevin Costner, and time and time again Disney will show you that it still works.

Costner plays Jim White, a football coach with a bad track record in previous coaching positions. Following this incident, he and his family move to McFarland, California: a rural, impoverished and primarily Hispanic community. He starts his new job as the assistant football coach, as well as taking up the life science/PE teacher position. It is clear from the start that White does not want to live in McFarland, and will accept a better job if the opportunity arises.

During PE class one day, Jim observes two Hispanic boys running laps. His daughter comments on how fast the boys run, and Jim notices the stamina that they possess. After continuing to watch them, he approaches the principal of the school requesting permission to start a cross-country team with these young men to compete in upcoming state championships.

Coach White does more than simply coach a cross-country team, however. He invests in the lives of the boys and provides them with greater opportunities that would not have been possible otherwise. He also learns humility and the value of hard work from the guys on his team, who spend their mornings working in their parents’ fields from the crack of dawn until they go to school.

Costner does an excellent job in portraying the various struggles that Jim White endured to gain the trust of the guys on his team. Jim holds nothing back in guiding his team to excellence academically, athletically and as upstanding young men. The members of White's team, played by Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Rafael Martinez, Sergio Avelar, Ramino Rodriguez and Hector Duran, are top notch as well.

The film shows the hardships that the boys and their families faced as Latino migrant workers during this time period. The town and a majority of its families are plagued with a seemingly endless generational cycle of poverty, and their work is comprised of grueling, long hours with minimal pay. The writing by Christopher Cleveland and direction by Niki Caro adequately display this struggle.

While the writing is solid, the film takes a little while to get going. The first 30 minutes of the movie leading up to White forming the cross-country team dragged on for me, however the information presented at the beginning is necessary build-up to the main plot, which is more than worth the wait. Overall, the direction by Caro is superb, and I am looking forward to seeing her future directorial work.

The cinematography in the film is commendable. Most of the locations where the competitions take place include rolling hills and lush countryside in addition to a few urban areas. The enormous hills at the last location the team competes at are stunning to view from a distance, and the camerawork in the movie captures its beauty effectively.

While “McFarland, USA” does not bring any original ideas to the table, the execution and effectiveness of the film is a pleasant surprise. Fans of Costner and sports movies alike will not be disappointed.

“Whiplash” stakes claim as an indie frontrunner

Independent films have grown increasingly popular as of late. 2014 was filled with these types of movies that seemingly came out of nowhere, and “Whiplash” was one of the frontrunners.

Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman, an aspiring jazz drummer attending Shaffer Conservatory in New York City. Terence Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons, is a well-respected instructor at the university who takes notice of Neiman and recruits him for his studio band. Neiman's excitement to join the band is short-lived however; as Fletcher's brutal methods of teaching prove to be immensely taxing, physically and emotionally.

Brutal is an understatement of how cruel some of Fletcher’s methods are. Throughout the film it is difficult to tell if he is one of the protagonists or antagonists, if he is doing this to truly better his students or if he is just trying to find his own Buddy Rich. A recurring question the movie poses is where does an instructor draw the line? Is being one of the greats worth losing one’s humanity?

Neiman desires to be great, and this is shown in his decision-making throughout the film. His passion allows him to endure the physical and emotional abuse put forth by Fletcher, and the battle of wits that ensues between the two actors is where the movie shines.

Damien Chazelle's writing and direction fuels the intensity of the performances. Chazelle himself struggled to make it as a jazz drummer in high school, and stated that he had an intense music instructor who was an inspiration for Terence Fletcher’s character in the film. His musical experience is evident in the script, and the quality of the jazz music is no doubt a testament to Chazelle’s guiding hand in the production.

The music itself is captivating, and Fletcher’s ferocious conducting is not only the product of good acting. Simmons graduated with a music degree from the University of Montana and minored in composition and conducting, which contributed greatly to his role in “Whiplash.”

Teller also possessed some experience in rock drumming tracing back to his teen years. Rock drumming and jazz drumming are entirely different however, and for two months Teller had to train three to four hours each day under professional drummer Nate Lang. Because of his hard work, Teller was able to actually play, in portions, the difficult pieces that Neiman performs in the film. The fluidity and intensity of Neiman’s drumming however, is more of a testament to Tom Cross' editing.

The last 30 minutes of this film will have viewers’ eyes locked onto the drama; it is one of the most emotionally gripping finales I have ever seen.

“Whiplash” is an impressive feat by 30-year-old Damien Chazelle, winning three Oscars including the well-deserved Best Supporting Actor recognition awarded to J.K. Simmons. It is a fast-paced, full-throttled drama that will have viewers on the edge of their seat until the last drum stroke.

I’m glad to hear that someone else enjoyed it! It wasn’t a great film, but I was pleasantly surprised and had a lot of fun with it. I thought it got some undeserved hate/criticism when it came out.
I love animation and have a soft spot for cute children's animated films. But this was not cute. The characters were incredibly annoying and the film was uninspired.

I’m glad to hear that someone else enjoyed it! It wasn’t a great film, but I was pleasantly surprised and had a lot of fun with it. I thought it got some undeserved hate/criticism when it came out.
I love animation and have a soft spot for cute children's animated films. But this was not cute. The characters were incredibly annoying and the film was uninspired.
I respect your opinion. It's been a while since I've watched the film, so perhaps my views would change a bit on repeated viewings. What about the characters annoyed you?

I respect your opinion. It's been a while since I've watched the film, so perhaps my views would change a bit on repeated viewings. What about the characters annoyed you?
It's been awhile for me as well, but I recall being especially annoyed by the way Parsons's character spoke (Not his voice, but the way he structured his sentences.) Also his behavior in general.

It's been awhile for me as well, but I recall being especially annoyed by the way Parsons's character spoke (Not his voice, but the way he structured his sentences.) Also his behavior in general.
I can understand that. I actually found the way he structured his sentences to be interesting. Yes, it was odd and a bit jarring at first, but for me it added something different to the character that I wasn’t expecting.

I could see how his behavior could come across as annoying, though. Like I said, it wasn’t a great film, or even a good film per se, but I had a fun time with it. Thanks for sharing your opinion!

Hillbillies, drugs and Katniss Everdeen: A review of “Winter’s Bone”

Nominated for two Academy Awards and winner of the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” ranks among the top films to come out of Sundance in recent years.

Adapted from Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name, the film follows 17-year-old Ree Dolly, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and her struggle to provide for her mentally ill mother and younger siblings in the fallout of her father’s disappearance. Her father is out on bail following his arrest for manufacturing “crank” (methamphetamine), and is soon scheduled to appear in court. Ree is told that if he does not show up for his court date, her family will lose their home. Determined to ensure a hopeful future for her siblings, Ree sets out to find her father in a family- and drug-centered culture of southern Missouri.

The film opens with a wide shot of the landscape. Rolling hills of green and grey overlook a valley of mobile homes and rusted vehicles, with a lone, naked tree resting in the foreground. An a cappella rendition of “The Missouri Waltz” is sung as Ashlee and Sonny Dolly play outside on their trampoline. Ree hangs laundry out to dry and repairs Ashlee’s baby doll before calling her siblings to come inside. The sequence ends with the words, “Winter’s Bone” superimposed on a silhouette of barren trees.

Filmed entirely on location in Missouri’s Christian and Taney Counties, the opening act of “Winter’s Bone” captures the ruggedness of its setting. While not everyone who views the film will be familiar with Missouri’s Ozark region, most southern viewers will recognize the rural and impoverished neighborhoods depicted and the hillbilly archetype of the film’s characters. This is largely due to Granik’s desire for an authentic setting. She and her crew ventured six times to southern Missouri during pre-production, taking notes and seeking out local guides for assistance. Three families in Forsyth, Mo. allowed Granik and her crew to use their homes as sets for the film, and very little was altered to the families’ property during production.

The people of Christian and Taney Counties were as vital to the film’s authenticity as the location itself. Local residents such as William White, Ashlee Thompson and Isaiah Stone contributed their accents and knowledge of the culture to their roles of Blond Milton, Ashlee Dolly and Sonny Dolly respectively. Other Missouri natives added improvised dialogue for their characters, one being Ron “Stray Dog” Hall, who plays Thump Milton in the film.

The meth capital of the United States serves as the cultural backdrop for the narrative of “Winter’s Bone.” As depicted in the film, family ties and regional loyalties govern the more remote areas of southern Missouri. While Granik shows the impact that meth manufacturing has on a local community, she avoids depicting drug use in a negative or positive light in the film.

The portrayal of drug use in film has gone through several phases over the last century, fluctuating and evolving with changing attitudes about the topic in the surrounding culture. Drugs frequently appeared in silent films during the 1900s. By the 1930s however, the portrayal of drugs on screen became almost universally negative due to shifts in federal law and popular perception.

The hippie movement of the 60s and 70s made its mark on the big screen; with drug use more frequently appearing on film. “Easy Rider” in 1969 brought the 60s counter-culture to the mainstream through the positive portrayal of LSD and marijuana. Influenced by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s war on drugs, films from the “Just Say No” era once again brought the anti-drug stance into the limelight.

After decades of alternating between two main viewpoints, modern cinema has settled on a more neutral depiction of drug use. Films such as Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” use drugs to tell a compelling story without pushing a positive or negative agenda. “Winter’s Bone” takes a similar approach.

“He cooks crank,” Ree says to her cousin Megan.

“They all do now. You don’t need to say it out loud,” Megan replies.

The film’s dialogue and character interactions reveal that the community’s drug problem is acknowledged simply as the way things are. Ree’s Uncle Teardrop casually snorts crystal meth in front of her twice in the film; the second time with a cigarette in his other hand. Little Arthur asks Ree if she “want’s a line” or if she would like to “blow some smoke” when she asks him about her father’s whereabouts. When she refuses, he bangs his hands down on his coffee table and tells her that he has nothing else to offer. Even Ree herself, despite avoiding the use of crank, still understands that it is at the core of her family’s identity and the society in which she was raised.

Granik seems to enjoy telling stories that use drug addiction as a key component. Her first feature film, “Down to the Bone,” like “Winter’s Bone,” neutrally depicts drug use while showing the impact it has on a young woman’s life. Both protagonists hit rock bottom in each film, but, like Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” franchise, persevere to overcome their respective struggles.

In fact, Gary Ross, director of “The Hunger Games,” was interested in Lawrence for the role of Katniss because of her breakout performance in “Winter’s Bone.” Fans of the young adult dystopian films will undoubtedly fall in love with Ree, as her characterization strongly resembles that of the girl on fire.

The brilliance of “Winter’s Bone” is found in its simplicity. Woodrell’s novel told Granik and her team where to go and they went, crafting an authentic mise-en-scène for the film along the way. Within this setting, Granik tells the relatable story of a young woman who loves her family; who goes the distance to save her home. With another feature film in the works with “bone” in the title, we certainly haven’t seen the last of Debra Granik. Her meticulous direction coupled with Lawrence’s performance is where “Winter’s Bone” shines.