Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter's Bone - a triumphant win of silence over car crashes

Winter's Bone is a movie that Hollywood could never produce.

They just couldn't.

It is a quiet, studied examination of the scorched aftermath of meth, and the determined spirit of one young woman who tirelessly fights for those she loves.

It tells the tale of a community ravaged by drugs, the dysfunction of the police to do anything about it, and the folks who are just barely hanging on. It is the type of storyline that you could easily imagine being one of the threads of HBO's The Wire, but this time, instead of a bombed out Baltimore slum, the story takes place in the cold Ozark mountains.

Director Debra Granik does a brilliant job letting her tale unfold naturally.  The cinema verite style allows the viewer to enter this world as a documentary viewer might - taking in the sights, gently getting a feel for these characters, until at around the eleven minute mark the plot point that propels the narrative is finally revealed.

17-year-old Ree Dolly, forced to look after her two younger siblings and her incapacitated mother, discovers that her wayward meth-cooking father is due to appear in court soon and has put the house up for collateral for his bail bond.  If he fails to appear in court, they stand to lose everything. Meager as it is, their house and property are the only thing holding this shattered family together.  Ree desperately tries to track her dad down through a series of tense encounters with the local community - most of whom are somehow related.  Round these parts it seems almost everyone is kinfolk.

If taken out of its rural surroundings and placed in a dark, nighttime urban environment, Winter's Bone could easily be seen as a classic Film Noir thriller.  Our protagonist stands alone trying to unravel a mystery while dangerous unknown forces thwart her at every turn.  She is met with indifference at best, and violence at worst and inevitably comes face to face with the shocking reality of what has become of her father, and what she must do to carry on.

A great movie of determination and will, Winter's Bone is not for those who need a car crash every five minutes to keep them awake.  Sit down, settle in and let the movie work through you.  Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Bree is both effortless and spellbinding and she absolutely deserves an Academy Award nomination, as does Debra Granik for her amazing pitch perfect direction.  I hope it will also receive a nod for best adapted screenplay as well, from the novel by Daniel Woodrell.  Granik and screenwriter Anne Rosellini do a tremendous job of letting scenes breathe and displaying the classic screenwriting ethos of "show,  don't tell".

Be sure to check out Winter's Bone - it may even soon be re-released into the theaters again when the Oscar buzz hits the beginning of next year.

4 stars! (out of 5)


  1. I saw this on a plane! Perhaps not the best setting but I did love it. Beautifully done.

  2. Nice review. It is indeed an excellent film that deserves all the praise it gets. Check out my review here.

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