Review: The Remarkable Winter's Bone Chills to the Very Soul

June 10, 2010

Winter's Bone Review

This review originally ran on during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. This is a re-posting in honor of the film's limited release this weekend. Visit the official site for more.

The amount that goes unspoken in Winter's Bone, the new film from Debra Granik (of Down to the Bone), is vast. A sort of film noir set in poverty stricken, rural Missouri, the film is a true powerhouse of emotion, thrilling and daring in all the right places and trimmed through and through with top-notch performances.

Leading the charge in those performances is Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, a young girl whose mother is mentally devoid, whose siblings are too young to fend for themselves, and whose father is a drug dealer who has gone missing. After the father misses a court date, Ree is visited by first the local sheriff, played by Garret Dillahunt, and then a bounty hunter. She is informed that if her father is not found, alive or dead, within a week, she and her family will lose their home. And so begins a quest throughout the community, as Ree goes from distant relative to distant relative (they're all pretty much cousins here) in search for answers behind her father's disappearance. She uncovers secrets about the community and the consequences of her and other's actions.

First and foremost, Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in this film. At only 19 years old, she commands her role with subtle nuances and absolute dominance. She fills the role of a young girl who has long since been forced to grow into the head of her household, and she does so masterfully. She had a small role last year in The Burning Plain, quite a forgettable movie, but it appears her career is about to soar. Take note of her name, because, just as she is a force in this film, she is sure to be a force in the industry in the coming years.

Granik's screenplay, co-written by Anne Rosellini and based on the novel from Daniel Woodrell, moves like a Dashiell Hammett novel complete with nefarious and eccentric characters, as Ree goes about her investigation. The pacing is impeccable. The structure of the film is anything but loose, and there is quite enough character development in the early moments so that, once things become violent, there is a real sense of foreboding danger for Ree and her family. Granik is bold enough to include Ree in every scene, and the casting process must have been arduous to say the very least. With Lawrence, Granik found her Ree, and the two mold the character together into one of the strongest female leads in recent memory.

Filling the gap of the femme fatale is John Hawkes as Teardrop, Ree's uncle who may or may not be involved in her father's disappearance. Hawkes dominates his role, filling the ambiguity bag with equal parts scariness and sincerity. Early in the film, Hawkes delivers a threatening line that is both remarkably written and shockingly expressed, and that alone elicits such a sense of terror from this character that you move back a bit in your seat. He and Lawrence play off of each other wonderfully, as well, and the level of talent at work in the scenes where Ree and Teardrop are together is flat out astonishing.

Paced like a moving journey of discovery through the rural backwoods of Missouri, Winter's Bone hits all the right marks, chilling when it needs to be and vastly superior in terms of surprises than many recent attempts at film noir. Everyone at work here is at the top of their game, and Lawrence and Hawkes serve as true standouts who, if promoted correctly, should be garnering some awards buzz in early 2011. Winter's Bone is remarkable, and it stands as a riveting portrayal of one, young girl's tread through dangerous waters. I cannot imagine seeing a greater film at Sundance.

Jeremy's Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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i've been looking forward to this -

beavis on Jun 11, 2010


wow that makes me want to see this. looking forward to whenever am able to

yup on Jun 11, 2010


after reading that review, how could anyone NOT want to see this??? hope it is all you say it is as we'll be in for quite a treat...cant wait...

blasphemer on Jun 12, 2010


Who killed Jessup is a tantalizing question. While the question remains unanswered and open-ended, there are clues that point to one individual. Teardrop, Jessup's brother had the greatest motive and opportunity. Initially Jessup is against Ree's search for her father. The other members of the extended family appear to be less involved in the drug trade and have other ventures going on. Thump Milton has his cattle and seems to have some success in this business. It is only Teardrop, the drug abuser, who seems to have no visible means of support. If his brother speaks with the authorities and exposes the criminal activities, it is Teardrop who has the most to lose. The other family members fear Teardrop, and it becomes apparent that it is Teardrop rather than Thump Milton who is the most dangerous and most involved individual. In an interview Deborah Granik, the director, states, "Both Teardrop and Jessup, are deeply entrenched in the local meth economy, which Ree knows comes with its own code of conduct. Teardrop doesn’t want to talk about his brother’s whereabouts, doesn’t want to give clues, and doesn’t want Ree to investigate, to the point where he threatens her. A warning is issued, and an obstacle is thrown in her path. We learn that Ree’s uncle is gruff, intimidating, volatile, and dangerous to deal with. The tension and secrecy that Teardrop throws in Ree’s path in this scene sets the stage for the uphill battle her search is going to become. The scene comes early in the film, and lets both Ree and the audience know that even though she is a teenage girl from within the family, she’s going to face the same kind threats and violence that would be inflicted on anyone who comes around asking too many questions." The novel also describes Teardrop as having gotten his tattoos for killing people and not having had any witnesses. Jessups murder is consistent with Teardrop's MO. Ree is led to a meth lab that burned down because of human error. Ree sees past this and knows that her father was too good at his nefarious craft to have made such a mistake. The motive in showing her the lab is twofold. She would stop looking for her father, and in addition, her father would be seen as having "messed up." Teardrop tells Ree never to tell him who it was who killed Jessup if she finds out. Ostensibly this is because Teardrop would then be obligated to kill that person in revenge and possibly end up dead in the process. An alternate interpretation is that he would not be able to face Ree if she finds out that he is the actual murderer. Teardrop has strong feelings for Ree. Is it because she is his niece or because she is his daughter? Is he in love with her? What is revealed in the family album that causes Ree to burn it along with other belongings? If the family is to break up, where will each of the characters go? Incestuous relationships and vague family boundaries are suggested throughout. How are people related? The same blood runs through the characters, but the bloodlines are never quite clear. The end of the movie is quite telling. Here is where the movie differs from the novel. Teardrop picks up Jessup's banjo but is unable to play it and says he was never able to play as well as his brother. Sibling rivalry rears its ugly head, and Teardrop would like to humiliate his brother because he could never be as "good" as Jessup. He could never fill Jessup's boots which are featured prominently in the film. He then speaks softly to Ree and indicates that he knows who killed Jessup. Teardrop's very name come from a tattoo or mark on his body; it is the mark of Cain who slew Abel his brother. To the extent that Teardrop has killed Jessup, he is his brother's keeper. It would not be against the code of silence for Teardrop to kill his brother (fratricide occurs in the Godfather as well), to take care of "family business." The words are never spoken, but Ree knows it is Teardrop who killed Jessup.

Hydrangea on Jun 30, 2010


when they frist started filming this i watch the trailors an had a lot of bad comments about the brick homes in the trailor but i just watch the finished movie an have to say they changed the homes to be a lot more real GREAT JOB west plains mo

larry johnson on Nov 2, 2010

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