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Winter's Bone (2010)

A movie directed by Debra Granik

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A Girl Searches for Her Father

  • Sep 25, 2010
"Winter's Bone," adapted from the novel by Daniel Woodrell, is a stark, raw, and gritty masterpiece of storytelling, a thoroughly absorbing detective story that goes above and beyond the reliable conventions of mystery solving. It's a quiet, harsh, and unflinching societal drama set deep within the Ozarks, a world of cold forest lands, small houses that look slopped together from spare parts, cars perpetually hoisted on cinderblocks, and distrustful mountainfolk who all seem to be related to some degree. In these desolate backlands, we find seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), who has taken her mother's place as a homemaker for her younger brother and sister. Her mother is still there, but only in body; her mind is somewhere off the beaten path, having strayed after an emotional trauma she could never come to terms with.

Ree's father, Jessup, was arrested for cooking meth, which seems to be what most people do around these parts. Why? It certainly can't be for the money, considering the abject poverty in which some of them live. Whatever the case, Ree learns from the local sheriff that her father skipped bail and has gone missing. Worse yet, he put his own house up as a way to meet his bond, apparently having no other assets at his disposal. He now has one week to turn himself in. If he doesn't, Ree and her family will be thrown out of the house. Ree, with remarkable understated determination, vows that she will find him. Thus begins a door-to-door manhunt, Ree visiting the homes of Jessup's known associates. It's a journey that will prove more dangerous than it may first seem; these people are just as wary of their own kind as they are of outsiders, perhaps even more so. Family means nothing. It's all about survival.

Ree definitely knows how to survive. She does the best she can with her siblings - feeding them, clothing them, educating them, showing them how to hunt and prepare food with what little she has to work with, including welfare and the occasional helping hand from neighbors. She keeps them as happy as she can, and indeed, they seem unaware of how disadvantaged they truly are. If they are aware of it, then they don't seem all that bothered by it, not as long as they have Ree to keep them in line. So selfless is this young woman that one can't help but wonder where she learned it from. Certainly not from her mother, who can do little more than stare vacantly into the distance, thinking whatever she thinks. I guess some of us are naturally inclined to be self sufficient. Maybe we need more people like her in our lives, if not for friendship, then just for the satisfaction of aspiring to be like her.

As she journeys forward, she crosses paths with her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes), a meth dealer who may or may not have something to do with Jessup's disappearance. He's intimidating and mysterious, distrustful and bitter, scarred and hopeless - simultaneously Ree's greatest obstacle and greatest ally in getting to the bottom of things. Hawkes, in the tradition of great actors like Al Pacino and Marlon Brando and even contemporary figures like Johnny Depp and Viggo Mortensen, completely disappears into his role, turning out a flawless balancing act between fearsome and forlorn. Teardrop is a hardened man who I seriously doubt has ever been happy, or at the very least, contented; the words themselves may be foreign concepts to him. Watching him as he progresses with Ree, I was torn between being frightened of him and feeling very sorry.

Jennifer Lawrence, at just nineteen years old, gives one of the year's best performances, and I would be greatly disappointed if she weren't recognized with an Oscar nomination. The determination she brings to her character shows not the slightest trace of conventional Hollywood heroism; she doesn't make herself into a larger-than-life caricature of the strong willed young woman, someone who will sermonize endlessly and make a spectacle of herself. She's an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation. She does what she does not to prove a point, but merely because she has no other choice. Rarely do you see films with characters so convincing, so engaging, so in command of dialogue and emotion.

The film's pacing is superb. The final thirty minutes alone build the kind of suspense that would rival even the best of Alfred Hitchcock's films, Ree's journey having taken a violent turn. It all builds up to a late night boat ride through a swamp, and while I won't reveal what happens, I will say that the scene is frightening in a way that most horror movies could only hope to be. That it's so terrifying is a testament to Anne Rosellini and Debra Granik (the director), who wrote the screenplay in such a way that we can actually feel something for the characters. Without that emotional connection, there would be little for the audience to react to; the film would be a sequence of events, and nothing more. "Winter's Bone" is a bleak, absorbing, resonant, tightly wound treasure of a film, one of the best I've seen this year.

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December 13, 2010
I need to see this one!! Thanks for the great review.
November 05, 2010
Nice review! This was briliantly depressing.
More Winter's Bone (2010 movie) reviews
review by . November 05, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
An Unflinching Drama About a Girl Who Seeks Out Her Missing Deadbeat Father...
I am not exactly sure how I am going to begin a review on director Deborah Granik’s “Winter’s Bone”. The film is so undeniably simple at first impression, doubtless those folks who have seen a good number of genre films and independent movies have come across movies with strong similarities. Yet, I find this film quite compelling and effective with how it develops its story. Depressing films have the strong potential to be brilliant no matter how simple its premise is; and …
review by . January 01, 2011
A few years ago, I read Daniel Woodrell's WINTER'S BONE and found much to admire. Set in the most destitute portions of our nation, the Ozark country of southern told the story of young Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old girl and her desperate efforts to find her missing father and bring him to court before his bail is revoked. Because the bail her dad put up was the deed to the Dolly house and land. This would have left Ree and her two young siblings and her mentally ill mother homeless.    &nbs …
review by . June 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Bare Bones
WINTER’S BONE Written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini Directed by Debra Granik Starring Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes      Ree Dolly: Never ask for ought to be offered.    WINTER’S BONE tells you immediately what tone to expect for the duration of your journey.  Two young children bounce up and down on a trampoline that sits outside a dilapidated wood cottage that is surrounded by discarded playthings and car parts.  A folk waltz about …
review by . August 03, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Ree has enough to deal with, even before she finds out her house is due to be taken away. She's just seventeen, and stuck running the household, with two younger siblings to feed and a catatonic mother to care for. She does a good job, given meager resources - but her father's been away a long time, out on bail for cooking crystal meth, and he put up the house and the land as collateral. The only thing for it is to find him, and nobody wants to help, and she comes to see that knowing can …
review by . December 07, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Engrossing and scary
Deep in the backwoods of Missouri, 17-year old Ree Dolly has a hard life; she's raising her siblings, caring for her mentally-ill mother, and running the house all by herself. Her father, a meth cooker, has jumped bail and the family will lose their home if he can't be brought in to the law so Ree must go to all of her kinfolk for help, even though she knows their code of silence is enforced by beatings - and worse.      This low-budget film is excellent, reminiscent …
Quick Tip by . November 16, 2010
Talk about dreary! Basically what we have here is a brilliantly acted, well-directed film with an insightful screenplay. The story, which takes place in a sort of white trash paradise, is full of quiet moments of reflection and desperation. If you want a feel good film, look elsewhere. This one is for the Gloom Patrol. I liked it.
review by . December 31, 2010
Ree is a 17-year-old girl who lives with her mother and two younger siblings in Missouri hillbilly country. For some reason -- if it was explained, I missed it -- her mother is almost comatose so Ree is in charge of cooking and cleaning and caring for her 12-year-old brother, Sonny, and her 6-year-old sister, Ashlee. Ree doesn't go to school -- I suppose it's possible that she's already graduated -- and she'd like to join the military, but her family obligations make this impossible.   …
Quick Tip by . August 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Winter's Bone might be the best movie I've seen this year, or even last year. There's not a false note in acting, directing, design, photography - just not a false note, period. It's America as the third world - lest we forget every Shining City on the Hill has it's shanty towns - but it doesn't romanticize the hard-scrabble lives these characters live. It's also America as the Dark Ages with warlords, forest families, and mayhem. And, it's the back country mafia hard at work cooking and selling …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Family loyalty and self-reliance take on whole new meanings in this dark story of one family's desperate struggle to survive in the Ozark woods of southern Missouri. Day-to-day life is tough in the economically depressed, unforgiving harsh rural landscape that's home to the extended Dolly clan, but it's made much tougher thanks to their history of cooking crank and deep involvement in the local drug culture. For Jessup Dolly and the other men of the family, looking out for oneself has become the first priority. Seventeen-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) has been caring for her mentally ill mother and her two younger siblings while her father runs from the law. Ree has been managing OK, but when the sheriff shows up with news that her father has put the house up as bond collateral and is unlikely to show for his court date, things get desperate. Ree is well aware of the family code of silence, but desperation forces her to confront her relatives in search of her father, regardless of the personal consequences. One by one, Ree's relatives refuse to help, protecting themselves even at the cost of one of their own. This is a dark, often violent film that doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of the manic drug culture permeating some rural areas of the South. It is intense, emotional, and extremely effective: it is at times simultaneously uncomfortable to watch and paradoxically riveting. Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Dale Dickey deliver phenomenally ...
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Director: Debra Granik
Genre: Drama
Release Date: June 11, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: October 26, 2010
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: Lionsgate
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127 Hours

Best Picture Nominees 2011


First to Review

"The Bare Bones"
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