Directed by: Debra Granik Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins Rating: R Release Date: June 18, 2010
PLOT: A 17-year-old girl (Lawrence) who takes care of her two younger siblings tries to find her meth cookin’ deadbeat father before his bail bounty hunter takes the family property into possession.
WHO'S IT FOR?: The patient art-house crowd that enjoys movies about simple poor folk without considering any accusations of pretension.
EXPECTATIONS: From the whiz-bang trailer I had seen two weeks previous, I knew this had won some festival acclaim, but I was not going to let that sway me either way.
Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly: You’d be hard-pressed to find a girl of her age more mature than Ree, a woman who has taken on all maternity duties for the primary sake of survival. Throughout Winter's Bone she remains an adamant stone that refuses to roll over, and her perseverance through all of the backwards land shenanigans makes her all the more compelling. Score: 7
John Hawkes as Teardrop: The dimensions to this troubled character are laid out the most clear of any participant in Winter's Bone. In the beginning he’s disturbing, but he slowly picks up a certain sense of compassion. The latter is played off by the story too lightly, but his ugly side does contribute to a couple of tense moments in the film. Score: 6
Dale Dickey as Merab: As the queen bee of Meth World, she’s one intimidating lady, especially when she’s barking with every blood cell pumping in her body. Dickey only has a few scenes, but she commands them with her claustrophobic wickedness that is sometimes covered by a seemingly abandoned method of southern hospitality. Score: 7
TALKING: They got some thick accents down there in the Ozark Mountains, or wherever this cotton pickin’ movie takes place. But they also got them some wit too, at least some of them folk. One of them says, “Talkin’ just creates witnesses.” Score: 6
SIGHTS: No offense to any of the faces that belong to the actors, but the make-up did an excellent job with corroding the mugs of the film’s characters meth-style. This barrenness is also recognized in the capturing of the overall location, which presents a full picture of the type of dirty emptiness that people like Ree are dealing with – a cold land of constant gray clouds that is colored by dead grass and dead cars. Score: 8
SOUNDS: An a capella lullaby introduces the world presented in Winter's Bone, and regional tunes make an appearance every so often to further color the sounds with local flavor. There’s even a hootenanny or two, which are delightful to listen to, but are a bit out of place in storyline, and exaggerated in length. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: You’ve got to give a hand or two to the writers for coming up with a specific climactic scene that both grosses me out but makes me want to stay on the “boat.” More importantly, I’ve learned a great way to hide a body without it being found. Thanks!
ENDING: "You can't stop what's comin'."
REWATCHABILITY: This is really bleak stuff, and not the enjoyable kind of bleak. I don’t look forward to seeing this again any time soon.
The lowest of the lower class are depicted again with another polarizing movie about cold and poor folk caught in extreme circumstances. Similar in soul to independent movies like Frozen River, Winter's Bone is the type of film that presents a vacant gloominess of a world most of its immediate viewers have probably never experienced, and forces them to take a stance. Is there really nothing to this modern story, or are all contextual bits, however much there may be, simply just invisible?
Yes, of course, Winter's Bone firmly set in a world that is real to somebody. It is an aesthetic accomplishment in that it immerses its audience into the land of Missouri (misery?) with dark-gray clouds, lots of dead grass, and even a hootenanny or two. Reality then becomes a double-edged sword when focused on its plot – sure, the story is written with no formula, something that can probably be chalked up as fresh air for some audience members. But is there much else, in the form of interest, in the place of where there would be a formula?
The tension in this movie is sparse, and only pops up in a few brief occasions that usually fizzle instead of pop. Once the objective is clear (find the father), lead character Ree goes from one weird household to the next one, looking for answers and receiving none, while the movie grips tight onto its simple mystery without letting it evolve much. This is more accurate to real life, but this also lends itself towards slow pacing and an experience that can be too bland for some.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10