Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter’s Bone Chilling Code of Silence.

Winter’s Bone

Recently a co-worker and I were discussing the state of movies in 2010. My co-worker was commenting on what a poor year it has been for cinema. The summer box-office numbers were used as validation of this point. While I agree the summer movie season was less than desirable, I firmly believe that 2010 has been an excellent year for quality films. Far better than the last year’s crop of films. One of the films that really blew me away this year was Debra Granik’s latest film Winter’s Bone.

Set in a rural community where the local industry is brewing Crystal Meth, Winter’s Bone looks at the lengths to which a young girl will go to in order to keep her family together. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 17 year-old who must take care of her two younger siblings as well as her mother who is ill. Cash is tight, and food is slim, but somehow Ree manages to maintain a resemblance of a somewhat stable home. Unfortunately Ree’s hard work is about to go up in smoke when she learns that her father has put the house up as collateral for his bail. If he does not show up for his court hearing, the entire family will be homeless. Despite stern warnings from her father’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes), and others in the community Ree is determined to track down her father at all cost. Yet the more Ree inquires about her father’s whereabouts, the more danger she puts herself and her family in.

Winter’s Bone is not a flashy movie but its simplicity is what makes it so captivating. Setting the film in the confines of a small community allows the film to evoke an eerie tone that only amplifies the gripping script. The one thing that is immediately noticeable is how the area in which Ree lives has its own set of unwritten laws and hierarchy. These rules supersede anything that the government institutes. Even local officers, such as Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahun), know that they are mere pawns in the grand scheme of things.

This is a region where the men set the standards and the women are meant to follow obediently. Those who go against the code, regardless of age or sex, will be dealt with in a cruel manner. This is why Ree is such a fascinating character. Despite her youth, she carries the determination and wisdom of a woman far beyond her years. The independence that she has gained from having to raise her family has opened her eyes to the follies of the area in which she lives. Unlike most, Ree believes that family is more important than any code. This is a lesson that Teardrop and others in her family have forgotten.

Although the town in which Winter’s Bone takes place is run by men, it is women who make this film such a success. Whether it is Granik’s subtle nuances with her use of colour, or the way she interjects moments of calm (such as the musical birthday celebration) amongst all the grim tension. Granik is clearly a director who I am looking forward to seeing more from in the future. I also cannot forget the phenomenal performances from both Jennifer Lawrence and Dale Dickey. Jennifer Lawrence gives one of the best performances of the year in this film. She conveys a maturity and understanding of her craft few actresses show so earlier in their careers. Winter’s Bone lives and dies on the believability of Ree’s character, and Lawrence successfully rises to the challenge. While Dale Dickey only has a small role in the film, she manages to bring a complex mix of menacing anger and compassion to the role of Merab. Bounded by the code, Merab does not initially want to inflict pain on Ree, yet she will not hesitate for a minute if she is called to do so. Is Merab a villain or merely a victim of circumstance? This is the question that the audience will be wrestling with long after the screening is over.

Winter’s Bone is garnering a lot of notice on the award circuit and rightfully so. It is one of the best films you will see this year. While it may not have the flashiness of The Social Network, or the star power of Inception, it is a film that should not be missed. Go out and rent this film as soon as possible.


  1. First off - the start of the blog discusses 2009 ... the year is 2010.

    But Winters Bone is great and I think, bit by bit, these indie films are getting more scope. Hopefully, in time, films like this will move out the silly big-names-attached-to-comedy=money so often created. Bit by bit...

  2. @simoncolumb - Thanks for catching the typo. Much appreciated.

    There does seem to be a small trend building in which mainstream audiences are starting to pay more attention to indie films. All we need now is for studios to invest more money in promoting indie flicks instead of spending millions on promotional material for Transformers 3, Cop Out, etc.

  3. I wrote my review of this movie right after seeing it and I gave it 3 stars out of 5. Over the following months I found myself reflecting on several scenes from the movie. It stuck with me far longer than some other Oscar-nominated movies. If I were going to review it now I would probably give it 4 stars out of 5, and a place on my Top 10 movies of 2010 list.

  4. @Chip – A lot of people think Winter’s Bone would have not been nominated in the Best Picture category had the Academy Awards not adopted the 10 film policy. Frankly I think it deserved to be there even if it was only five films eligible.

  5. Phips4:23 am

    Finally watched this.

    I dont get it...I dont get the hype. Clearly the movie's plot and Ree's character are tailored to Oscar nods but I dont think Lawrence warranted a nomination. I dont remember who she was up against, aside from the winner Natalie Portman. She did pretty good but not how I see a Best Actress recipient performing.

    Similarly..why was Hawkes nominated? He was good but not great. He wasnt even in the first half of the film..trying to pull an Anthony Hopkins or what?

    After being prodded to see this and finally doing so I kinda feel underwhelmed by the film. Not enough happened for me. I dont need explosions, guns, car chases, or even other plot excitement at every turn but this film had hardly anything going on.
    I'm glad I finally watched it and I do see a lot of potential with Jennifer Lawrence but I dont rate this film as highly as others.


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