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Overall Rating

Awesome: 34.38%
Worth A Look56.25%
Average: 3.13%
Pretty Bad: 3.13%
Total Crap: 3.13%

3 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Winter's Bone
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by Jay Seaver

"Ozark noir."
5 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2010: The music on the soundtrack specifies Missouri, but that's not what's important; it's the mournful single female voice and barely-there accompaniment that tells us what we need to know about the setting for "Winter's Bone": It's chilly, there's nothing fancy to be found, but there's love and loyalty there too.

Maybe not right on the surface; getting mushy is a luxury that 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) doesn't have. Her brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) need looking after, and their mother is practically catatonic. Their father is missing, and even though he's a no-account meth cooker, his absence a big problem: He's out of jail on bond, the family home will be forfeit if he doesn't make his court date, and nobody knows where he is. Ree's got to find him, even though everyone - neighbor Sonya (Shelley Waggener), best friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser), and uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) - advises her to mind her own business.

The Ozarks are an unusual location for a film noir, and Ree isn't the typical hero, but Winter's Bone feels like something from that genre anyway, with plenty of hints given in the form of "you should leave it alone and definitely not look here", as well as a situation that exposes more and more rot the further Ree digs. For all that she's aware of the amoral, outside-the-law code her family lives by, there's an impulse other than self-preservation at work. She's got to be her own knight-errant, and there are few shadows to disappear into (instead, the roadless woods become a sort of no-man's land), but it's a classic noir story.

Those put a fair demand on their stars, but young Jennifer Lawrence is up to it. What the part needs, and what she does very well, is to be able to go between defiant and scared smoothly, whether by changing body language when a situation gets out of her control, or being able to sell the line "he scares me" when everything around it is her being tough. She does it without suddenly going quiet or making Ree look weak. She's also quite good at letting the "normal" teen girl mannerisms peek out on occasion, and has a pair of really fantastic scenes toward the end that show just how much she may or may not be ready for the situations she finds herself in.

Though it's Lawrence's show, she's ably supported. Most notable is John Hawkes, who runs the gamut of drug-induced instability over the course of the picture - potentially violent from the start, but more sentimental as Teardrop's path continues crossing with Ree's. He transforms Teardrop from a junkie thug to a potentially tragic figure so smoothly that it's not quite clear what the tipping point is. There's not a bad performance to be found, although Dale Dickey is the other standout; ostensibly the wife of the big boss, she is the one who often seems to hold the real power; even at her softest, she can cut like a knife.

Co-writer and director Debra Granik unfolds the crime story at a relaxed pace, but never so relaxed that it feels like Ree is being "unfairly" obstructed; indeed, that it doesn't run at a breakneck pace works; it shows how Ree has to deal with other demands (Sonny and Ashlee are twelve and six, and she can't trust her neighbors with them) and just how inevitable the situation was - even if she didn't have a plan ready, it's a situation Ree knew she would have to face. Granik and her crew do an excellent job of presenting Ree's world, as well: When Ree takes the kids to school, it doesn't quite feel like she's stepped into a different century, but near enough. The locations and cold never look dressed-up or exaggerated, and there are moments that capture the mood with simple understatement ("do we eat those parts?" "Not yet.").

It all combines into an excellent thriller, one which doesn't need to hit the audience with shocking moments to keep the audience paying rapt attention. Granik gives us a story where dangerous situations inexorably advance on Ree and her family, and Jennifer Lawrence makes sure we're never less than fully invested in it.

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originally posted: 04/27/10 13:51:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Dallas International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Dallas International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2010 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2010 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Provincetown International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Provincetown International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/13/13 David H. gritty, remarkable, with Jennifer Lawrence giving a star-making performance 5 stars
8/27/12 David Pollastrini Jennifer Lawrence is great in this. 4 stars
8/29/11 the truth too little plot for a movie, should've been a play 3 stars
7/17/11 Annie G A story about those ‘real Americans’ we are always hearing about … scary! 2 stars
5/02/11 Darkstar I hated every minute of it. Depressing hillbillys cook meth, one disappears. 1 stars
3/04/11 millersxing a light yet assured directorial hand seems to be at work here; it evokes John Sayles' work 5 stars
1/30/11 mr.mike Low key drama with "Deliverance" type cast. 4 stars
1/24/11 bill norris jennifer lawrence- hot . movie- pretty good 4 stars
12/07/10 lou film of the year draining ,thrilling, absorbing brilliant 5 stars
11/27/10 John Anthony top-notch 4 stars
11/06/10 dean shuck good film, vey serious, good acting 5 stars
7/16/10 damalc as thrilling and authentic as anything i've seen in years 4 stars
7/12/10 lWard Best film in a long time 5 stars
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  11-Jun-2010 (R)
  DVD: 26-Oct-2010


  DVD: 26-Oct-2010

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