Brandon's Sundance Review: Debra Granik's Winter's Bone
by Brandon Lee Tenney
January 31, 2010
Winter's Bone puts shit in perspective. In the tradition of Precious (then, Push) last year, Winter's Bone won the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic Competition. Like Precious, the film is a depiction of poverty and the dregs of society. It's a tough film to watch, both because of its subject matter -- a seventeen-year-old girl is tasked with rearing her younger brother and sister while trying to hunt down her drug-dealing father in order to keep her family intact -- and because it's just a slow film. All of the film's parts are excellent. The writing is stellar, and, in fact, it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award here at Sundance as well. The direction from Debra Granik is sparse and affecting. And the performances are impressive, to say the least. But the sum of those parts add up to a bleak, unfortunately hopeless film.
I've no problem with slow films -- Un Prophete is an extremely slow burn -- but Winter's Bone never grabbed me. While the film played, I sat there intellectualizing the whole thing. I recognized the nuanced dialog and great uses of silence. I saw each character's defining moments and the films commentary, but I never became emotionally invested. And I need that emotional tie. Winter's Bone is a film that has very little audience, in my opinion. It certainly won't receive the backing Precious did -- by the likes of Oprah and Tyler Perry -- and it's such a depressing, trudging film that even if one enjoys the film, it's hard to recommend it to one of your friends. That feeling isn't one I readily endorse for my friends, at least. As Neil Miller of Film School Rejects put it, it's poverty porn. As well made as it is, without engaging my heart, the film will fail every time.
Brandon's Sundance Rating: 6 out of 10