Winter's Bone (USA; 100 min.)

directed by: Debra Granik
starring: Jennifer Lawrence; John Hawkes; Lauren Sweetser; Shelley Waggener; Kevin Breznehan; Dale Dickey
Un Prophète

Michael says: "Got out to the Independent Film Festival of Boston tonight, and was not disappointed by Debra Granik’s outstanding WINTER’S BONE.  This taut, atmospheric drama has already racked up some awards at Sundance and Berlin, and I sure hope Roadhouse Attractions gets it out there in theatres for people to see.  Granik and Anne Rosellini adapt a novel by Daniel Woodrell and in addition to a strong screenplay, effectively use authentic locations, local color, music, and terrific performances to make one all-around successful movie.  Ree is a seventeen-year-old girl raising her two younger siblings and caring for her mentally disturbed mother in the woods of Missouri.  This is an area that is still governed by feuding families reminiscent of the Hatfields and the McCoys.  Ree’s family is under threat of losing their home unless Ree can produce her deadbeat father, dead or alive.  Her attempts at finding him are blocked by her very large extended family, from her Uncle Teardrop who suffers from a hair-trigger temper and a crank addiction, to distant relatives whose family rules the area.  After a particularly nasty beating, Ree is ready to give up, and even attempts to join the army hoping the promised $40,000 can save her two younger siblings.  When that fails and hope seems lost, aid comes from an unlikely source, and the day is saved… but not without some serious drama along the way.

"There is so much to praise about WINTER’S BONE.  Jennifer Lawrence is wonderfully effective at Ree, tough and determined, but still possessing the vulnerability of a teenager in over her head.  John Hawkes (Deadwood; Lost) gives Teardrop much needed depth and layers, so his behavior never seems unbelievable.  The several women who populate the area are surprisingly compelling in their supporting roles and are ultimately revealed to be the real doers in the Ozark dynasty.  I was thrilled to see Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks) in a small role as Ree’s father’s former lover, and she acquits herself well.  My favorite of the bunch is Dale Dickey as the ruling family’s matriarch, Marab.  Tough as flint, yet with hidden compassion, she’s utterly convincing, and a joy to watch on screen.

"In addition to the performances, Granik is deft at constructing a real sense of place through images, sounds, and music.  Clearly Granik worked closely with the Missouri natives, who added important authenticity with their locations, their homes, their livestock and clearly their knowledge.  WINTER’S BONE is a real winner, and is definitely worthy of this reviewer’s 5 cats"


Jason says: "The music on the soundtrack specifies Missouri, but that's not what's important; it's the mournful single female voice and barely-there accompaniment that tells us what we need to know about the setting for Winter's Bone:  It's chilly, there's nothing fancy to be found, but there's love and loyalty there too.

Maybe not right on the surface; getting mushy is a luxury that 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) doesn't have.  Her brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) need looking after, and their mother is practically catatonic.  Their father is missing, and even though he's a no-account meth cooker, his absence a big problem: He's out of jail on bond, the family home will be forfeit if he doesn't make his court date, and nobody knows where he is.  Ree's got to find him, even though everyone - neighbor Sonya (Shelley Waggener), best friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser), and uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) - advises her to mind her own business.

"The Ozarks are an unusual location for a film noir, and Ree isn't the typical hero, but Winter's Bone feels like something from that genre anyway, with plenty of hints given in the form of 'you should leave it alone and definitely not look here,' as well as a situation that exposes more and more rot the further Ree digs.  For all that she's aware of the amoral, outside-the-law code her family lives by, there's an impulse other than self-preservation at work.  She's got to be her own knight-errant, and there are few shadows to disappear into (instead, the roadless woods become a sort of no-man's land), but it's a classic noir story.

"Those put a fair demand on their stars, but young Jennifer Lawrence is up to it.  What the part needs, and what she does very well, is to be able to go between defiant and scared smoothly, whether by changing body language when a situation gets out of her control, or being able to sell the line 'he scares me' when everything around it is her being tough.  She does it without suddenly going quiet or making Ree look weak.  She's also quite good at letting the 'normal' teen girl mannerisms peek out on occasion, and has a pair of really fantastic scenes toward the end that show just how much she may or may not be ready for the situations she finds herself in.

"Though it's Lawrence's show, she's ably supported.  Most notable is John Hawkes, who runs the gamut of drug-induced instability over the course of the picture - potentially violent from the start, but more sentimental as Teardrop's path continues crossing with Ree's.  He transforms Teardrop from a junkie thug to a potentially tragic figure so smoothly that it's not quite clear what the tipping point is.  There's not a bad performance to be found, although Dale Dickey is the other standout; ostensibly the wife of the big boss, she is the one who often seems to hold the real power; even at her softest, she can cut like a knife.

"Co-writer and director Debra Granik unfolds the crime story at a relaxed pace, but never so relaxed that it feels like Ree is being 'unfairly' obstructed; indeed, that it doesn't run at a breakneck pace works; it shows how Ree has to deal with other demands (Sonny and Ashlee are twelve and six, and she can't trust her neighbors with them) and just how inevitable the situation was - even if she didn't have a plan ready, it's a situation Ree knew she would have to face.  Granik and her crew do an excellent job of presenting Ree's world, as well:  When Ree takes the kids to school, it doesn't quite feel like she's stepped into a different century, but near enough.  The locations and cold never look dressed-up or exaggerated, and there are moments that capture the mood with simple understatement ('do we eat those parts?' 'Not yet.').

"It all combines into an excellent thriller, one which doesn't need to hit the audience with shocking moments to keep the audience paying rapt attention.  Granik gives us a story where dangerous situations inexorably advance on Ree and her family, and Jennifer Lawrence makes sure we're never less than fully invested in it. 5 cats

"Seen 23 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)"


Thom says: "Besides the raves from Chlotrudis stalwarts, the San Francisco Chronicle lead film reviewer Mick LaSalle called WINTER’S BONE the best film so far in 2010. The average rating on of the film is 8.3, also a high rating. So off I went to the film last Saturday expecting the world. To say I was horribly disappointed is putting it mildly. Without a doubt the acting is first rate in this thriller but my appreciation of the film ends there. In the film a 17-year-old girl is searching for her disappeared father to get him back for his court hearing because he put the house up for a jail bond. But the other people running through this dull script are inbred, violent, drug dealers of the suburban type, and to call them downright uninteresting is the highest praise they deserve. Our heroine appears to have nothing going on in her life of any worth. Is she going to school? Is taking care of her younger brother & sister all she does with her time? Does she have any plans to better herself, to get out of her life of trapped misery? If indeed these types exist they simply weren’t worth my time. And then there was the scene where big sister was teaching her younger brother to shoot a gun, huh? Was this supposed to be laudable? Through the entire film I kept expecting some revelation, any revelation, and then the film was over. I walked out in shock. 2 cats"

Jason responds: "I can't say your opinion is wrong, but I think a lot of your complaints seem to come from a misapprehension of just how close to the bone the characters in the movie are:

"'drug dealers of the suburban type'

"Although the Ozark backwoods may technically be sub-urban, the general usage of that word tends to be someone in a much higher economic class than these characters.

"'Is taking care of her younger brother & sister all she does with her time? Does she have any plans to better herself, to get out of her life of trapped misery?'

"Well, to answer the second question, she and her friend do mention the army very early on in the film, well before she's talking about it as a way to get some quick cash.  To answer the first...

"'And then there was the scene where big sister was teaching her younger brother to shoot a gun, huh? Was this supposed to be laudable?'

"Well, yes.  She wasn't teaching him how to kill people, but how to hunt for food.  That scene is followed by her showing him how to dress a rabbit, and when he asks her whether they eat the other parts, her answer is 'not yet'.  By this time she's very afraid that she and her siblings will be split up, whether because she gets killed trying to solve the mystery, or by the government when they lose their house.  She's teaching him how to survive, in the way that they are currently (barely) squeaking by.  I suspect that she does spend most of her days when not at school hunting small game.

"Maybe the director didn't do a good enough job of demonstration what dire straits the family is in to city dweller who see the cluttered house and the space between it and the next one and instinctively think 'well, these characters can't be that poor' - and I'm not saying that's necessarily your issue, although I have heard similar comments on other topics from lifetime metropolitans.  But then, I think one of the film's strengths is that it presents the characters' (sub-)rural world without complaint or condescension, even though it is very different from the environment in which most independent film consumers live."

Michael responds: "As one of the people who is raving about WINTER'S BONE, I have to say that I'm stunned that you find the characters in this film uninteresting. I find the characters probably the most interesting thing about the film!

"My favorite character is the matriarch of the family Ree is struggling with to find her father. Played by Dale Dickey, her hardened face and vicious fists are so counter to the almost motherly emotions she seems to want to express for Ree. And Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks) is great in her brief scene as April, a woman from Ree's father's past. How about those neighbors next door who try to help Ree out with food and advice.

"Then there's Ree herself, who is self-reliant, tough, independent, but still very much a child. She thinks joining the armed forces will solve everything, but what about her two younger siblings? And that heartbreaking scene with her mother? All she wants is someone to take care of her, but that person just doesn't exist.

"I loved this film and can't wait to see it again."

Thom responds: "I have the questionable characteristic of always placing myself in any film I watch and if I was anywhere near any of the people in the film I would run away as fast and as far as I could. And that’s how I felt about this downbeat film. Doesn’t everyone in the world wish someone would take care of them? The point is that everyone needs to get over this and learn how to care for themselves. Joining the Army would be the worst possible solution for the girl."

Lisa responds: "Michael - You are absolutely right about this film. I thought it was a very accurate portrayal of people living in those latitudes of the flyover zone. I loved the characters, the dream sequence, and all the details that told me this director knew what she was talking about."

Julie says: "I loved this film and so far it's the best most memorable film I've seen this year (although as usual I spent most of the year catching up on 2009,  but in any case!). I agree with Michael's review. Couldn't have put it any better. I found it particularly appealing and entertaining how the women in these families  did almost all of the important communicating and 'are the real doers in the Ozark dynasty' as Michael put it.

"The only male character who really stood out was John Hawkes as Teardrop. Hawkes did an excellent job portraying a character you'll most likely change your opinion about through the film.
"For me, the scene where Ree teaches her siblings to shoot was also and maybe foremost about teaching them how to survive not only for food but for defensive needs in case it came down that. Many of her actions were toward ensuring they'd be self sufficient if need be.

"Her plan to join the military seemed initially to try to better herself and get a marketable skill and possibly education.  A desperate move in the end to get money yes. 

"I happen to know from personal experience that many people have no other choice than to join the military to better themselves. I've met some very interesting, intelligent and cultured people who came from backwoods places and they can have great ideas and talent. They are not all boring and mundane. And I found the major characters in the movie quite intriguing with depth and complexity. Loved the two kids as well. I think the director did a great job with the kids (and animals!).

"The other interesting thing that Michael also mentioned was that some of the minor characters were from the town. I thought they did an excellent job.

"The film is gonna win lots of awards! I thought it was perfect in every way. Acting, cinematography,music, story. Outstanding!

"I'm looking at the making of the film right now- Even that part is so well done! It's a work of art in and of itself!