Slightly overrated despite the accolades, but this mood-piece should appeal to most fans of American indie cinema.
Dir. Debra Granik
2010 | USA | Drama/Mystery | 100 mins | 1.85:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for some drug material, language and violent content
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt
Plot: An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize (Sundance). Nom. for 4 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay.
International Sales: Fortissimo Films
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 13 Feb 2011)
Unlike Frozen River (2008) two years ago, Winter’s Bone is an independent film that has benefited from the expansion of the number of nominees for Best Picture, earning a shot at competing with large studio efforts backed by powerful producers and A-list directors such as Inception (2010), True Grit (2010), and The Social Network (2010).
Despite being nominated for the top Oscar prize, and three other nods including Best Actress, I feel that Winter’s Bone is slightly overrated, and as much I would like to support independent works, this one does not work that satisfactorily for me.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a 17-year old girl, Ree, living with a mentally challenged mother, and two much younger siblings whom she has to care for. She has a father who deals with drugs, and has gone missing for more than a week. The sheriff warns Ree that if her dad does not appear in court to stand trial in a few days, their home would be taken away.
“You always have scared me.”
“That’s cuz you’re smart.”
Such is the predicament faced by Ree that one would feel sorry for her having to not only single-handedly shoulder the weight of responsibility of caring for her (wrecked) family, but also to find out the truth of her father’s disappearance.
Director Debra Granik, who is also a co-writer of this film, creates a setting that is so depressing that the viewer would be forgiven if he or she thought it was a post-apocalyptic film like The Road (2010).
Shot on location in Missouri, the mise-en-scene of Winter’s Bone captures the desolate wilderness populated by scrap heaps of metal, unwanted appliances, and old, shabby homes with rusty fences. Stray dogs could also be seen roaming freely trying to avoid the chills that plague the area. To make matters worse, most of Ree’s neighbors are also like animals – hostile and self-protective.
For her role, Jennifer Lawrence had to learn how to skin squirrels, chop wood, and fight.
Winter’s Bone is more of an exercise in mood setting rather than being story-centric. The narrative is intentionally meandering, and even though we see Ree’s extraordinary drive to seek the truth, the truth itself does not seem to be the film’s most important objective.
Instead I interpret the film as centering on the uneasy relationship between Ree and his father’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes), who is initially unwelcoming towards her, but later vows to help and protect her. The lack of scenes that push the narrative forward could be frustrating for impatient viewers, and those who are expecting a taut mystery-thriller may feel disappointed as well.