‘Winter’s Bone’: A Movie Review

by on February 25, 2011

in Entertainment, movie reviews

'Winter's Bone' movie poster

There is a saying among movie makers that if it isn’t on the page it won’t be on the screen. Meaning that in order to make a great movie you have to have a great story and a great script. Winter’s Bone is a great movie.

Winter’s Bone is the story of seventeen-year old Ree Dolly played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Burning Plain, The Bill Engvall Show) whose father, arrested for producing meth, puts their house up for his bail and then disappears. Ignoring the warnings from her family and the threats of relatives and neighbors involved in the drug trade, Ree embarks on a frantic quest to find her father.

Jennifer Lawrence, who was born in 1990, was not much older than her character, when she gave the moving and powerful breakout performance that has gotten her noticed. If you’re a fan of the science fiction genre, Jennifer plays the young Raven Darkholme/Mystique in the upcoming release of X-Men: First Class.

As Ree, Jennifer Lawrence’s eyes took on a world-weary stare that told you that she was a child forced to become an adult way too soon. The film starts immediately showing Ree doing the chores as her younger brother and sister, Sonny and Ashlee (local actors Isaiah Stone and Ashlee Thompson) play in the yard.  It soon becomes apparent that the father is absent and has been for several weeks. The mother appears catatonic and Ree cares for her as she would a small child.

Jennifer Lawrence in 'Winter's Bone'After Ree walks Sonny and Ashlee to school, she lingers, watching through the glass of closed doors the normal activities of school that are now denied her.

It isn’t long before we find out why she has had to take on this burden. Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) arrives looking for her father. He gives her the news that her father, Jessup Dolly, after being arrested for cooking (meth) signed over the house and their land in order to make bond. She sets about her quest knowing the danger that will meet her.

Writer / director Debra Granik kept the dialect authentic and the dialogue is sparse. Even though little is spoken, the words, gestures, and stares convey a great deal of subtext and you always know what is going on.  One of the most enjoyable scenes was between Ree and the matriarchal character Merab, played by Dale Dickey. The tension between Ree and Merab was electric and very real. That was a result of the attention paid to the dialect and Debra Granik’s research into the region and Daniel Woodrell’s book.

Daniel Woodrell, a native of Missouri, is a master at using his knowledge of the area, its people, and history to create the settings and characters for his stories that lends a sense of reality and authenticity to his fiction.

Debra Granik and producer Anne Rosellini based the beautifully written script on Daniel Woodrell’s novel “Winter’s Bone”. This is the second time a novel by Woodrell has been made into a movie, Ride with the Devil (1999), which was directed by Ang Lee, was based on his “Woe to Live on”.

The producers kept the authenticity of the novel by shooting entirely on location during the winter in two counties in Southern Missouri. Actual properties of the area: homes, buildings, Forsyth High School, and the local people were used. The woman you hear singing during much of the soundtrack is Marideth Sisco, a singer and musician. She also appears in the picking scene with local musicians and is a lifelong resident and scholar of the Ozarks. The mixture of the classic Ozark music by Van Colbert, another local musician, and Marideth Sisco combined with original compositions by Dickon Hinchliffe adds to the realism and sets the mood perfectly.

Contributing to setting the proper mood of the film is the brilliant work of cinematographer Michael McDonough. You could take stills from the film, blow them up, place them in an art gallery and they would be hauntingly beautiful. If you looked at them in sequence, you would get a sense of the story.  Filming on location was no easy task. Many of the indoor scenes were so cramped that a hand held camera had to be used.

The help of local actors, locations, the sets, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the brilliant ensemble cast with John Hawkes as Teardrop, Ree’s uncle, Dale Dickey as Merab gave Debra Granik a broad canvas and varied pallet that resulted in a masterpiece.

Done on a budget of $2,000,000 and grossing $6,394,656, Winter’s Bone is nominated for four Academy awards, Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actress in a leading role for Jennifer Lawrence, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for John Hawkes and Best Screenplay based on material previously produced or published.

This small film started out by winning The Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and went on to gather numerous nominations and awards and critical acclaim from film critics all over the country.

Winter’s Bone probably won’t win the Oscar but deserves to stand side by side with the winner.

It is available on DVD and Blu-Ray disc.

Links: IMDB , www.wintersbonemovie.com

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