DVD Review: Winter’s Bone

by | Oct 28th, 2010 | 8:23AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, Movies

DVD Review: Rich with authenticity, Winter’s Bone is a descent into a Midwestern county where the menace of crank has replaced family blood ties. It’s also a gripping emotional thriller–and one of the year’s best films.

The danger of applauding a modest masterpiece like Winter’s Bone for its gritty, honest nuance is that such praise can come off as code for “dry and boring” or worse, “depressing.” Make no mistake, in adapting Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel writer-director Debra Granik and co-writer Anne Rosellini hauntingly portray the cancer that sets in when meth infects a community. But Winter’s Bone is also a harrowing mystery that pulls you deeper each step of the way.

In what is sure to be a career-launching performance, Jennifer Lawrence plays steely 17-year-old Ree Dolly, who’s raising her younger siblings and caring for her invalid mother in modern-day rural Missouri. Across empty gray skies and barren brown fields, Winter’s Bone follows’ Ree’s search for her meth-cooking father–he’s skipped bail, leaving his family’s home and land at the mercy of a bondsman.

That quest navigates the treacherous limbs of an extended family tree rotting from inside. Ree still believes “blood means something,” that her relatives will help her find her father (or his body) and save their land. But as one character observes, “everyone cooks these days”—a viral criminality that “thins blood down” in a community struggling with social-economic survival.

This is not a tale of addiction—meth’s physical and mental rapacity are only alluded to. Instead, the film looks at how the new bootlegging lucre of crank turns rural counties into deadly crime enclaves, complete with fiercely protected codes of silence.

(Still, the most frightening line of dialog is not a threat about snoops and snitches getting “et’ by hogs,” but Ree’s uncle Teardrop taking a bump of meth and with casual fatalism asking the girl, “You get the taste for it yet?”)

In addition to Lawrence, there are terrific performances from Garret Dillahunt as the local sheriff and flinty Dale Dickey as a matriarch every bit as threatening as the men (if not more so). Most of all, Deadwood‘s John Hawkes is mesmerizing as Teardrop—a man gaunt with razor-sharp regret and predestined violence. (Watch for Lawrence, Dickey, and Hawkes to dominate awards talk in the coming months.)

All this rural stoicism resonates not just with yards full of rusting cars and the routine of daily chores, but also the narrow educational and career opportunities available. Though draped in yearning bluegrass gospel, there’s no American-Gothic romanticizing in Winter’s Bone or broad strokes of good vs. evil. As Granik and Rosellini feel out the line where tough becomes mean and strong becomes brutal, characters come at us at first with shocking harshness or smiling aid–but their motives and behaviors aren’t easily predicted.

It could all come off bleak, but Winter’s Bone is dramatically drum-tight right up to its subdued-but-stunning climax. The film makers never pander to the audience, patronize their subjects, or fall back on easy stereotypes—in that respect, the closest comparison would be HBO’s The Wire.

This is a film about an America often dismissed and a problem we prefer to ignore. But more than that it’s an oddly hopeful film about family (flaws and all) and unfailing determination. Raw, realistic, and completely riveting, Winter’s Bone is the best American film of the year so far.

Winter’s Bone is available on DVD and Blu-ray from redbox.


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9 Responses to “DVD Review: Winter’s Bone

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on October 28, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I’ve never been knocked off my feet so slowly before.

  1. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on October 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Perfect description, Matphoto!

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Lisa Hopkins
    Posted on October 31, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Worst movie I’ve seen in a long time! Bad acting, no direction, no plot. Very boring….

    • Currently 2/5 Stars
    Posted on October 31, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    movie was ok…ending could of been better…

  2. Jennifer Lawrence Celebrity Fansite
    Posted on November 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I thought Winter’s Bone was great!

  3. Cara Swann
    Posted on November 10, 2010 at 10:30 am

    This is the best movie I’ve seen in YEARS! This review captured it exactly, and I do hope some awards are handed out for the acting/storyline.

    If you are the sunshine & roses type, bury your head in the sand, you’ll probably skip this movie. However, it’s exactly those people who need to see it, since they prefer to think such people/places don’t exist in America.

  4. Jennifer Sci Fi Friend
    Posted on November 14, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    I am the sunshine and roses type and usually run from these types of movies, however I completely adored this movie. As I sat and watched steeled myself for the usual indie no hope and utter despair subject, I found myself more than pleasantly surprised. And I think the first commentor summed up the feel perfectly “I’ve never been knocked off my feet so slowly before”.

    While I agree with most of your review, I disagree with your comment “This is a film about an America often dismissed and a problem we prefer to ignore”. I see no social commentary on the poverty or the meth situation. I do not see the movie attempting to make an appeal to the public to pay attention to a rampant and terrible problem in our contury. Or an attempt to galvanize people on one side of the issue or another. I see the “setting” beautifully used only to highlight the true heart of the film which you so aptly identify is “family” and “unfailing determination”.

  5. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on November 15, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Jenn, o’ pal o’ mine, I’d argue that just because the film doesn’t put up a big neon sign that says “Just Say No to Meth” doesn’t mean it’s not making a strong anti-meth point — her father, Teardrop, the way the county has become one big crime organization, all of that laid out as a heartbreaking testimony to what meth does to a COMMUNITY, not just to individuals.

    Same with the social-economic situation — it shows very clearly, if quietly, how poverty limits the options of people like Ree, and more importantly how that same poverty makes cooking crank not just an appealing financial choice to people like her father, Teardrop, and Thump, but one that people will easily kill over.

    Winter’s Bone is a subtle movie — it’s not a “message movie” with big banners. But to me that makes it MUCH more effective at getting its point across.