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Movie Review: Winter's Bone

By 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.

3.5/4 stars

Comments (3)

Great Movie!! I was raised in the Missouri Ozarks area where the film was set and filmed. This is the part of the US that loves Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh (who is from Missouri) and voted for GW Bush twice. I have to say that the film was amazingly "true to life" in every detail. I would also like to say that you don't have to be desperately hungry to hunt and eat squirrels either. It is considered very good food in the hills. I have eaten it many times and it is delicious when cooked correctly.

I have been dismayed reading many of these reviews calling it a "fake" and/or "phony" and contrived film. I do understand that the character of Ree Dolly certainly has many wonderful and admirable qualities that seem to have developed in a vacuum. Ree Dolly needs to be that sort of character for the rest of the film to work and not simply be a documentary of the endless poverty endured in the Ozarks for generation after generation. I grew up EXACTLY in that part of Missouri and Ree's character aside, it is EXACTLY correct in the look, the language and the behaviors there.

I would also like to address the meth epidemic that has raced across huge sections of the rural Midwest America. I was raised in the Ozarks from 1963 until 2009 and I watched the moonshiners lose out as Sunday Blue Laws and Dry County Laws were voted down or abandoned. Then marijuana became THE big cash crop that survived and thrived for many years until "Daddy" Bush's anti-marihuana laws poured in tons of money to local law enforcement and new laws confiscating lands forced the richer growers indoors. It was finally in the mid 1990s when you began to see meth force out ALL the remaining marihuana farmers and moonshiners. Counties began to get in meth dealing Sheriffs and the old games were OVER. In my Ozark County (Morgan) during the late 1990s a deputy sheriff's home mysteriously exploded and then was investigated by the FBI. I watched as the marijuana became hard to find and evil meth take over.

The people of the Ozarks have always been clannish, hostile to outsiders and proudfully ignorant and primitive in their opinions of society and politics. Those traits are nothing new or something that manifested due to meth. But the introduction of meth has struck down many good men and women who might have made the culture a tiny bit more tolerant or hopeful.

But along with the continuing devastation of multi generational poverty and vastly inferior schools there is also a great beauty in the land and the people of the region that you can see in a short movie shot in the Ozarks at;

or my longer version at:

Many an unbelievably gifted musician lived and died in those hills never having recognition from anyone outside of the hills.

I strongly urge everyone to watch this movie because it is VERY
truthful and realistic of how parts of the US survive. It also shows a part of America that is VERY often overlooked because many are (rightfully) ashamed that this sort of 3rd world poverty exits in the US. I personally feel that the Federal US government needs to inject a LOT more funding and OVERSITE of the rural school districts in order to overcome the generations of prideful ignorance that governs the mindset of many born into that rural America culture.

Hillbillyloren | October 7, 2010 11:59 PM

I to was raised in the Ozarks in Douglas county known in them parts as Booger County. Life was not real easy and a nickel was hard to come by. But thanks to them critters in the woods we made it.

Larry Sullivan | December 2, 2010 5:40 PM