Movie Review: Winter's BoneBy James Beale
September 5 2010
A winner of two awards at Sundance, "Winter's Bone" is a chilling, hopeful story about community, family, and the goodness of human beings.
The setting is a world we hope we never have to inhabit. Still, this version of the Missouri Ozarks is unmistakably real. Society has abandoned this community. However, the opposite could be true as well as in that the characters don't seem to care about the outside world. The town and atmosphere becomes a character of its own, and no character has a black or white morality.
Ree Dolly, played by actress Jennifer Lawrence, is a 17-year-old who raises her brother and sister without any parental help. Her father, a meth dealer, puts his house up for bond which forces Ree to find him, or lose her means of living.
The film maintains an element of hope throughout the entire narrative, even while showing arguably evil characters and what looks like a Dust Bowl town from the 1930s.
This optimism is individualized by Ree, someone director Debra Granik is clearly is inspired by. Ree has a quiet courage and the belief in the essential goodness of people that permeates the film. This is no doubt a star turn role for Lawrence, who is only 20 herself.
Most of the first half of the film includes meeting the residents of the town, who only stay due to a lack of other options. The most interesting is Teardrop, played by John Hawkes. Teardrop is Ree's uncle, who plays into the conventions of the townspeople in multiple ways.
Meetings with the other residents of the town are essentially all similar; they create excellent mood, but slow the story down. This is made into an even larger issue since the dialogue is sparse and plot is essentially limited to the paragraph above.
Thus the story rests almost entirely on its actors, and that's a good place to be. "Winter's Bone" gets considerably stronger in its final act, and although I don't entirely agree with where the story goes, it has an idea I can respect.
It's easy to see why "Winter's Bone" won at Sundance - it features a potentially career- making acting performance, great characters, and a message about the human condition.