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Winter's Bone (2010)

A movie directed by Debra Granik

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Winter's Bone

  • Dec 31, 2010
  • by
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.

Money is tight for Ree's family so they have to rely on the kindness of others to get by. When one of their neighbors is outside cutting up a big freshly-killed animal, Sonny is practically drooling at the prospect of asking for a chunk. "One oughtn't never ask for what should rightly be offered", Ree instructs, or some sort of grammatically-questionable homespun wisdom to that affect. For me, one of the best parts of Winter's Bone was marveling at the oddly-constructed sentences and turns of phrase.

The movie's main story is that Ree's daddy, a cooker of crystal meth (they call it "crank"), put their farm up for collateral for a bail bond the last time he was arrested and now he's done gone missing. The sheriff tells Ree that if he doesn't turn up in the next week or so, the whole family is going to be out on the street, and where these people live, the street is more like just a dirt path through the woods.

So Ree (what kind of a name is "Ree", anyway?) takes it upon herself to try to track her daddy down, and she starts traipsing through the woods calling on kinfolk with names like Little Arthur and Blond Milton and Teardrop and asking as to whether or not they've seen him. The universal answer is something along the lines of "Girl, don't you go sticking your nose in places where it ought not to be stuck". Once, when she keeps on asking questions after she's been told to stop, Teardrop shoots back with "I already said 'shut up' once with my mouth..." Yikes.

Teardrop is Ree's daddy's coke-snorting brother. I'm not sure if he's called "Teardrop" because of the teardrop-shaped tattoo he has just below his eye or if he got the tattoo to match his name. In any event, Uncle Teardrop isn't particularly avuncular as he's far more concerned about protecting his crank-cooking brother than with the welfare of his soon-to-be-homeless young nieces and nephew and their zombie-like mother.

Though I liked Winter's Bone and I found it to be quite entertaining, I was a bit confused by a couple of key elements of the basic story. Such as, what's the point of Ree trying to track down her bail-skipping daddy? Does she think that maybe the court date has just slipped his mind? And why is she rebuffed so strongly by almost every single person she talks to? Is it just that she's violating some sort of hillbilly code of silence or is Ree's daddy the best darn crank cooker in the entire state of Missouri and no one wants to risk losing him?

Winter's Bone is more about atmosphere than it is about facts. It's set in a world filled with denim and plaid and birthday party hootenannies and some of the ugliest people ever to grace a movie screen. Even Ree, who starts out attractive, ends up sporting a bruised, swollen face for the latter part of the film.

One of the most striking aspects of the movie is the strange set of rules by which the characters seem to live. Women are clearly subservient to men, but it's the women, not the men, who join together to put a whoopin' on Ree, as one of them proudly points out. Apparently, honorable men inflict their violence only upon their own women.

For me, the most memorable scene in the film is one in which Ree teaches Sonny and Ashlee how to shoot a rifle. After successfully bagging several squirrels, she asks them whether they want them fried or in a stew. "Fried!" the kids yell in unison with an enthusiasm most children reserve for trips to McDonald's. That settled, she then enlists Sonny's reluctant help in skinning one of the wretched creatures. As if that isn't bad enough, she then insists that he reach inside its body and gut the thing himself. After some hemming and hawing, he eventually reaches in and pulls out a long red rubbery organ that I can only assume is a squirrel intestine, which he stretches high above the furry little corpse until it finally snaps free. I didn't know whether to laugh or say "eww", so I did both simultaneously, along with just about everyone else in the theatre.

It's hard to believe that people like the ones depicted in Winter's Bone actually exist in the year 2010 and that they live less than 500 miles from me. It's not just the poverty and the insular nature of the community that's so striking; it's the general unpleasantness of the people, the lack of compassion, the violence, the chauvinism. I'm pretty sure I've never been to Missouri, and based on this movie, I won't be planning a trip there any time soon.

Winter's Bone does an outstanding job of creating a sinister backwoods feel. Every shot screams "white trash" with absolute authenticity. These characters make the denizens of the Jerry Springer show look like pinky-extending sophisticates. While this is no doubt the desired effect, it also serves as somewhat of a distraction. I was more interested in the film from an anthropological perspective than I was in how the story turned out. I laughed more than once at things that I'm quite sure were not meant to be funny and I savored the freewheeling grammar rules.

On the way out of the theatre I asked some random guy if he was going to go home and cook himself up a big pot of squirrel stew. He stared blankly, a look that I interpreted as a combination of confusion and fright. I guess one oughtn't never banter with strangers on the way out of the picture show for fear that they might reckon you're a bit tetched in the head.

Or maybe he just preferred his squirrel meat fried.

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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 . September 25, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
"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 …
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.
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 …
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About this movie


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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"The Bare Bones"
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