09 July 2010

Review: "Winter's Bone"

A lot has been said about Winter's Bone since it won the Grand Jury Prize for drama at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film has received glowing praise from critics and currently has a 94 rating on RottenTomatoes. I first saw a preview for the film after rushing in late to see Agora and did not know much about the film. While finally watching Winter's Bone I was struck by how similar it felt to Down to the Bone, a 2005 film that starred Vera Farmiga. It turns out both films were directed by the same woman, Debra Granik. Granik adapted the film from the novel Winter's Bone (2006) by Daniel Woodrell, whose earlier novel Woe to Live On (1987) was the basis for Ang Lee's 1999 film Ride with the Devil. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, a seventeen year old girl living in rural Missouri who is looking for her deadbeat father. Her performance is breathtaking and the film is worth seeing for her alone. I was not as enamoured with the film as some critics have been. My principal complaints are that secondary characters are introduced too haphazardly and their importance feels rushed, and I found the camera work to be very clumsy. In Down to the Bone the camera work was rocky and made to feel realistic, but Winter's Bone has much better production to make this excusable. Winter's Bone is a good thriller with a standout performance by Jennifer Lawrence and while it may not be amongst the year's best films (as some have stated) it is certainly better than most films in theatres right now.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a seventeen year old girl living in rural Missouri. She has a lot of responsibilities. Her mother is sick and unable to maintain the household. Ree has two younger siblings, twelve year-old Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and six year-old Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson). She has taken charge of the young children and takes them to school each morning, feeds them and puts them to bed. She has dropped out of school to chores at home, which include chopping wood for the fire. Her father has a court date approaching and the sheriff (Garrett Dillahunt) informs Ree that her father was unable to cover his bond and put up the family home as collateral. Her father is known to operate a meth lab with members of his family and she visits his relatives hoping to find information. There is a code of silence amongst these violent men and women and Ree finds herself in one tough situation after another. Her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) refuses to help her and her father's cousin Merab (Dale Dickey) threatens her violently. Ree works diligently to keep her family intact while also risking her own life to find her father before their home is taken away.

Winter's Bone is a good film and a decent thriller. Jennifer Lawrence does a fantastic job of Ree Dolly even though the film's emotional core rests on her shoulders. I still think that the film introduces secondary characters too quickly without purpose. Gail (Lauren Sweester), a friend of Ree's, becomes involved when Ree wants to borrow Gail's husband's vehicle and eventually seems to be living at Ree's house. It did not seem reasonable to me. If her husband was so reluctant to give up his truck then why does he not appear after Gail stole it? It could have been the heatwave that kept me from fully enjoying the film, or the bright blinding light from the projection booth behind me, or the man who decided it was a good idea to answer his phone. I do not think a lot of people saw Down to the Bone (even I only saw it because I fell in love with Vera Farmiga after seeing The Departed) and I felt like I was seeing parts of the same movie, or at least themes that were common. I do not want to bash Winter's Bone because it is a good film and many people will love it. Jennifer Lawrence's performance alone is worthy of viewing the film.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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