Winter's Bone - Movie Review
DOWN AND OUT AND REAL IN RURAL AMERICA
by Kevin Bowen
published June 26, 2010
now playing in
As a reporter
long ago, I worked a story involving illegal trash dumping in Georgia. After locating a popular illegal dump, I headed up the walkway to
the nearest door. I was met by a shadow, a man I never quite saw, asking suspiciously about my business there. I identified myself. He
told me to leave, with serious intent in his voice.
that driveway is the only time in my life when I’ve been convinced that a shotgun was leveled at my head. I didn’t see it. I couldn’t prove it. But I won’t forget it.
feeling arose again as I watched the cavalcade of backwoods characters – meth dealers and hostile faces – in Winter’s Bone. Every conversation hides a lurking danger, but you have a hard time getting a handle on
the smoky nature of the peril.
Sundance Grand Jury winner shares with the year’s other great film, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost
Writer, the formula of mystery deaths and amateur sleuths in over their heads. The Ghost Writer’s elite characters and Cape Cod setting are a socio-economic mega-leap away from this
film’s Methamphetamine America.
sleuth is Ree Jessup, a resourceful teenager barely making it, encamped in an Ozark cabin coated by winter’s chill. I would call her
poorer than dirt, but dirt has asked not to be associated with her lifestyle. She cares for a
little brother and sister, surviving off the scraps of a neighbor. Her mother has been struck deaf and dumb by too much of something –
drugs, death, life.
father, a legendary meth cook, has jumped bail, leaving the family home on the brink of foreclosure. Ree has one week to track him down
for his court date. Smart but naïve, brave but vulnerable, Ree pushes into the business of the locals, all distant cousins, as she
investigates her father’s disappearance. Her unstoppable search places her further and
further into danger and grotesque secrets.
Winter’s Bone gets at
something I’ve seen in person but never on film. Small towns are usually shown as either racist Hickvilles or as wholesome antidotes to
city life. That is to say, rural America is a constructed otherness that inverses attitudes toward city life at any one time. Yet, films
only occasionally reveal rural America for its own sake.
Bone presents a side
of modern rural America rarely seen – one where addiction is replacing tradition and where criminal ties are replacing family
ties. These wildly conflicting trends inform and destroy each other. The conflict is most
wholly centered in the person of Ree’s uncle Teardrop (slyly played by John Hawkes), who must steer between rival codes of
Equal to this
rough environment is its fringe-dwelling Nancy Drew, as well as the young actress who plays her, Jennifer Lawrence. Sometimes you wonder
if it is the actress or the role that makes a great character. I have no doubt that Ree Jessup is a great character on the page, but
Lawrence is such a natural steel wildflower. You might be shocked to find out that, yes, she is only a teenager.
becomes a star, it won’t be the first such launch for director Debra Granik, whose last film, Down
to the Bone, brought Vera Farmiga into prominence. Granik mines the same “fringes of American LIfe” territory as Ramin Bahrani’s
Chop Shop or Kelly Reichart’s Wendy and Lucy.
Reichart’s film has definitely grown on me with time and reflection. However, there’s something in Granik’s film that seems less
theoretical, less like a sociology experiment and more like a living story. The result is a