368 of 394 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2010
As crack cocaine is to inner cities and alcohol is to Indian reservations, so methamphetamine is devastating rural white communities across the United States. WINTER'S BONE, set in the remote Ozark Mountains, hauntingly depicts this plague. The story focuses on 17-year-old Ree Dolly, whose father has disappeared after putting up the family home as bail collateral. Unless she can find him, Ree and her younger brother and sister will be without a roof over their heads.
Ree's father is a "cooker" and her mother has been driven into a catatonic state. Ree is on her own in the hostile, clannish, and male-dominated community where she stumbles from trailer to trailer in her frantic search. Crank's ravages are everywhere, in the gaunt and grim faces, the harsh and sudden violence, the cruelty and hopelessness. Her father's only brother, Teardrop (flawlessly played by John Hawkes), holds a spoonful of the white powder out to her and asks, "Gotten the taste for it yet?" "Not yet," she recoils.
Aside from the down-home soundtrack, Winter's Bone is not easy to watch. Its gritty realism never lets up. The characters look like they climbed from Dorothea Lange's Depression and Dust Bowl images, only with a touch of meth-induced paranoia added to the hunger and despair. The dialogue is sparse, and not once in 100 minutes do we hear laughter or feel much hope for Ree's future. What makes it all bearable is the strength and determination of Ree, movingly played by 19-year-old Jennifer Lawrence.
Winter's Bone is winning awards and earning rave reviews. The acclaim is well deserved. To achieve authenticity, director and co-writer Debra Granik and her team spent two years immersing themselves in the local community. Ree's younger sister is even played by a child who lives in the main house in which the movie is set. The film's power makes me want to see Granik's 2005 debut film, "Down to the Bone," another award winner focused on drug addiction and featuring a strong female lead.
Postscript #1: For an excellent critical review, I recommend the Feb. 20 analysis by "Turfseer." (As a shortcut to it, you can type amzn.to/hYcDdT into your browser.)
Postscript #2: To gain a critical understanding of the meth plague in rural communities of the U.S., I highly recommend Nick Reding's Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. It convincingly links the meth epidemic to global changes, including the pharmaceutical industry and the corporatization of food.
114 of 124 people found the following review helpful
In American movies, we don't often see how we really live, but you will in Winter's Bone, and you don't need to have had a rough childhood in the back woods for this movie to make you feel the grittiness and glory of life -- or for you to know, like you would know how to find your bed in the dark, that this is probably the best movie you will see this year. And maybe longer.
Winter's Bone, directed by Debra Granik, was adapted from a novel by Daniel Woodrell. It was made in the Ozarks, often in the homes of the people who live there. Shot digitally on a mingy budget, it could pass for state-of-the-art Hollywood --- just raw and unvarnished, like Hollywood never is.
The story is simple; this is a straightforward thriller. Ree's father, Jessup Dolly, was busted a while back for cooking methamphetamine. To make bond, he put up his family's house and 300 acres of virgin timber. Now his court date is a week away --- and he's nowhere to be found. The local lawman drives out to warn Ree that the Dollys are in danger of losing their home.
Ree's mother has suffered a breakdown and is of no help, either in caring for her children or finding her husband. That puts her daughter --- already burdened by the need to look after her younger brother and sister --- on a mission. And don't think for a minute she'll quit, even though her quest is a walk on a knife edge; she can't turn in her father, all she can do is ask for help in finding him so she can talk to him. And the only people who can help her? His relatives. Some of them make the most addictive drug on the planet. All of them don't understand why she can't remember she's a Dolly --- "bred and buttered," as she says --- and just stop. As they say, "Talking just causes witnesses."
In its dramatic revelations, its dark surprises, and its no-nonsense portrayal of The Way We Are, the film feels almost like a Greek tragedy --- or an American Western.
There's a good reason this film won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Films and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance last winter, and why critic after critic is reaching deep into the superlatives lexicon to praise it as "the American film of the year" -- every detail is right. Jenny Lawrence, who plays Ree, comes from Tennessee. John Hawkes, last seen in Deadwood, is Jessup's brother; he's also from the region and looks so much like a member of The Band that it's eerie. Much of the cast is local and non-professional --- and, no offense, but they look like people who might make crank, who could scare you at traffic lights with a sidelong glance, who would quiet you with "I already told you to shut up with my mouth" and let their hands do the talking after that.
I've never seen a movie that's both painful to watch and impossible to turn away from. The scene with the squirrel. Ree's desperate attempt to convince an Army recruiter -- who's played by an Army recruiter -- to let her enlist for five years so she can collect the government's $40,000 bonus. And a climax so remarkable, so distant from anything you know as reality, that you'll never forget it.
138 of 153 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2010
Adapted from the novel by Daniel Woodrell, WINTER'S BONE immediately sparked comparisons to last year's Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker. Both films received limited runtime in theaters. But I must say this is by far the superior movie in just about every aspect imaginable, unless you count overwrought machoism, slanted anti-war sentiments, and explosions as a category. Don't get me wrong, The Hurt Locker was a decent film for what it was. But it won't leave the kind of lasting impression like this story will.
When you hear the word "backwoods", you might get the immediate impression of inbred, buck-toothed hillbillies wearing overalls and drinking moonshine. This story doesn't succumb to exploiting certain exaggerated stereotypes just to grab your attention. But these characters are definitely a little rough around the edges, to say the least.
Filmed in the Ozarks of Missouri, this is a simple but riveting dramatic tale about family, danger, and perseverance. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 17-year-old girl forced to grow up way too fast. With her mother desperately ailing and her father somewhere hiding from the law, she struggles to support her younger brother and sister. To make matters worse, a bail bondsman notifies her that her dad put up their home as his bail bond, then skipped out on court. In order to track her father down, Ree is forced to enter a seedy, violent realm of paranoid drug pushers and users. Many of them happen to be distant family members. Family ties or not, none of them are too anxious to help her out. The risks and desperation mount as she inches closer to the truth.
The best part of this film is the character development and the acting. It is so refreshing to see the young cast perform their roles with such controlled precision. Especially Lawrence. She puts many established Hollywood actors to shame here, I can't wait to see more of her work.
WINTER'S BONE is slow paced, and might not appeal to many casual movie goers. But it does have some moments of heightened tension that will leave you holding your breath. It explores a certain drug culture and meager lifestyle that is rarely touched upon in movies. Plus it makes some poignant, thought-provoking points about family devotion and the human spirit.
It also was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. I doubt there will be a better film than this all year. Brilliant filmmaking.
33 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2010
Imagine if you relatives, close and distant, where to settle within the proximity to each other, did drugs to the point of excess, made and sold Methamphetamine, used firearms in treating any nagging conflict between each other, and still were relatively poor. Winter's Bone contains many characters that are conflicted by the above conditions, and as far as the film lacks any observable redeemable condition. They all are family, but in their midst it would be better to be a stranger, or best never to come in contact.
Winter's Bone centers on Ree Dolly who in the absence of her father and the sickness of her mother, has to keep after her little sister and brother. Life is not easy as Ree's family lacks many of the basic necessities of life that her family and neighbors benefit from, such as food and hay for the horses. Her neighbor always pitches in to help her out with such basic needs, but isn't without her own intrusiveness about the affairs of the family. Despite the ardous conditions of life on the field, they live contently until an incident threatens to alter matters for the worst. It seems that their father who has been arrested multiple times for his illegal production and utilizing of Methamphetamine has put the house on bail and failed to appear for his hearing. If the family does not find him in time, they will lose their property. Ree sets out to find her father before they are thrown out of their house; a task she must be complete in less than a week.
Finding her father should not be the issue as the people he associates himself are fellow family members, but these people are not willing to reveal anything as it may be used against them in a legal context. Their unwillingness infuriates Ree as these are not only the only sources she can trace toward her father, but also because many of these people are close relatives of her father, such as Teardrop who is his brother. The family members are so coldly removed from each other that Ree must remember them that they are family, and that this must count for some level of trust. The Dolly family are so emotionally distant that a distasteful or insulting act by one member could entice close relatives to physically harm him. Everyone of may have inherited the surname, but their safety lies in their actions. This families safety and freedom does not lie in the hand of the Police, considering the amount of illegal activities they commit, but in the hands of the more powerful members of the family. No one dares to cross paths with the "Chief" of the Dolly family, as his large army of minions has enough power to crush any member of the family that he wishes. The Dolly family is not unlike the Mafia where one person rules, the Don, and the inferior men are continuously trying to ascend in rank. Unlike the Mob , however, a large majority of the Dolly family are forever condemned to remain inferior. The treatment of the woman is deplorable as it is implied that their only concerns should be within the kitchen and the bedroom.
Jeniffer Lawrence's portrayal of Ree is central to the film's success as her presence makes the title character seem so empowered and determined to solve this mystery. She stares in the camera with such confidence that the idea that she has raised herself and her siblings seems convincing; her demeanor also suggests that her mother's sickness is nothing new but it has been an ongoing condition. Lawrence is especially brilliant in some very masculine moments of the film, such as a scene involving skinning of squirrels and teaching her siblings in using a rifle. Much credit is also due to Director/screenwriter Debra Granik who shows Ree's inability to solve this case on her alone, and eventual surrender in the face of all the hardship that the Police and her family hurl in her direction. Granik has no intent to show Ree as a cowardly character, rather suggesting that without her family's help she is quite helpless and must concede defeat.
This is a deftly created product where the insubstantial plot succeeds in seeming much more complex than it turns out to be. Winter's Bone owes its success to its approach which familiarizes the audience with few admirable characters who trying to accomplish this not so easy task among the numerous villainous family members who are willing to do anything to prevent Ree from finding her father. The film is so captivating in its unique mood and atmosphere that its virtually nonexistent plot is only recognized near the conclusion. As unbelievably odd and unlikely as the ending of the film may be, its bittersweet nature is as Dolly as Granik could have achieved.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2011
The milieu the characters of "Winter's Bone" inhabit is truly a world unto itself: a rural land where grinding poverty rules, where clannish ties run thick, where guns and hunting are an integral part of daily life, where acts of brutality and violence alternate with simple acts of charity and kindness, and where outsiders are viewed with suspicion and paranoia.
In this richly atmospheric film of the Daniel Woodrell novel, Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree, a 17-year-old girl who lives in a dilapidated shack with her mentally ill mother and a younger brother and sister, whom Ree is essentially raising. When the sheriff comes to inform her that her father, who's been arrested for crank production, has put up the family's home and land as bail, Ree goes in desperate search of him to ensure that he doesn't skip out on his court date. However, as the young woman journeys through the area seeking information as to his whereabouts, she finds herself involved in a situation fraught with far more mystery and danger than she could have imagined when she first set out. All this leads to Ree having to decide between strictly adhering to the "code of the hills" - in which the ties of blood trump all else - or of violating it and doing what is right for herself and her immediate family.
Writer/director Debra Granik and co-writer Anne Rosellini immerse the audience so thoroughly in the Ozark setting that it takes us awhile to fully shake off the experience and to reorient ourselves to our own environment once the movie has ended. It's a beautifully observed landscape of gnarled trees, car tires, chopped wood, rusted-out vehicles and hay bales, where the sounds of cattle lowing and coyotes howling compete with the twang of a banjo and country music songs playing mournfully on the radio. Indeed, so cut off does this place seem from the outside world that many of the modern conveniences the rest of us take for granted - computers, cell phones, the internet - seem almost completely absent from the setting.
In terms of storyline and drama, the filmmakers scrupulously avoid resorting to melodrama or clichés to get their points across. The events in the movie arise organically and naturally from the setting, and the understated performances add to the verisimilitude of the piece. Lawrence carries the film with her insightful, dignified performance as Ree, a morally upright girl trying to do the right thing in a world almost totally devoid of resources and help. Yet, it is Ree's determination to not give up and to try to make something decent out of her own life and the lives of her siblings that gives the film its overall tone of hope.
Special note should also be taken of the stark, spare, haunting score by Dickon Hinchliffe that perfectly reflects the film's bleak and dreary background.
"Winter's Bone" is a harsh, unsparing film, but a memorable, mesmerizing experience all the same.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
`Winter's Bone', co-written and directed by Debra Granik, is a bleak and downbeat story of the marginalised underclass of dirt-poor rural white people in the Ozark Mountains; a welcome dose of realism in contrast to the usual fare of vacuous, glossy and lavish-budget Hollywood escapism/action movies. It's an uncompromising film with a simple plot line and features an astounding performance from the young Jennifer Lawrence as the female lead. You are likely to wake up the next day still thinking about this film, and its haunting images may linger long in memory.
I know the Ozarks in NW Arkansas and southern Missouri, and the film's social detail is exactly right. This is a side of America rarely featured in film: life lived in the raw by an isolated population in the backwoods, predominantly unemployed/self-sufficient and semi-destitute, the wreckage of broken-down old cars and appliances rusting in the yards of tumbledown shacks barely fit for habitation; subsistence living far from a complex urban consumer-society in which they have no stake. There is no non-white tokenism in the film's cast, so in this detail it's also uncompromisingly true to life. These folks live by an ancient code of blood ties, extended family bonds and militant non-co-operation with the law; illegal `cooking' of and addiction to life-wrecking methamphetamine - known as `crank' - is common. Another realistic detail is that no-one in the film has a cellphone or a computer or can even aspire to owning one: those everyday gadgets of the global consumer-matrix are as alien in this environment as they might be to someone in the 16th century. The most hi-tech life ever gets out here is a rusty old pick-up truck, a chain-saw and a gun.
Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year old forced to grow up fast and take on the role of the only responsible adult in the rural shack they call home. Ree cares for her catatonic, mentally incapable mother and her younger brother and sister. She is told her estranged father, arrested for distilling crank, put up the family shack as a bail bond and subsequently disappeared: if he doesn't turn up for his court date, the family shack will be forfeit and Ree and her siblings "...be thrown out into the fields, to live like dogs" - bleak indeed.
The film's simple, slow-paced plot principally involves Ree searching for her father, to find out if he's alive or dead and so save the family home (if she can prove he's dead, the bail will be annulled). In her search she demonstrates patience, resilience and determination and is in turn met by hostility, non-co-operation and eventually physical violence from the scattered community whose code of honor is that "ya don't ask no questions, and ya don't never tell." Her quiet and principled persistence eventually wins over some unlikely allies, and there is a resolution of sorts but hardly a `happy ending.'
The film has many poignant and harrowing scenes, but Lawrence's performance throughout is truly outstanding and utterly convincing (she was raised in Tennessee in a similar rural environment to that portrayed in the film). The cast are mostly unknowns and portray to perfection the kind of people you'd cross the street to avoid and never, ever pick a fight with - the women as well as the men. There is no humor in the film, but the serious tone throughout is somehow right for the sombre subject matter. You will utterly, completely believe in the characters and in the story: in style it's more like documentary than fictional drama, with a welcome absence of melodrama and no attempt to emotionally manipulate the audience. So if it's lightweight entertainment and laughs you're after, you better steer clear of this film.
`Winter's Bone' has received widespread critical acclaim and was nominated for (though didn't win) a number of 2011 Academy Awards, and picked up both the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Films and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The soundtrack is also excellent: genuine Ozark musicians playing mountain music on banjo and guitar. The film is very, very good, and I only drop it from 5 stars due to its rather bleak storyline and slightly less than satisfying (though not unbelievable) denouement. If you appreciate good, serious, quality film making you should definitely see it.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
"Winter's Bone" is a compelling and emotional viewing experience. Set in the rural Ozarks in southwestern Missouri, the story centers around 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence in an amazing performance)who struggles to keep her family afloat in desperate circumstances. Ree's father Jessup is on the run from the law, having skipped bond, and has left Ree to care for her mentally ill mother as well as a younger brother and sister who are too young to fend for themselves. This is the least of Ree's problems however. The family home has been placed as collateral for Jessup's bond and if he does not turn up for the court appearance, Ree will lose everything.
Driven to desperation, Ree decides to risk her own safety and track her father down (she calls it "hunting" in the movie). This proves to be a great challenge, and most of the movie actually focuses on Ree's attempts to get her neighbors and kin to reveal her father's whereabouts. This includes a taciturn uncle with a cruel streak, Teardrop (John Hawkes in a haunting performance). The fact that Ree's father was a "cooker" who cooked meth, and that this appears to be an important means of making money for the community which is portrayed in this film, makes things even more dangerous. There appears to be some sort of code of silence surrounding Jessup's whereabouts and fate, and the harder Ree pushes, the more walls she comes up against. The impenetrable veil of silence attests to the strong bonds within the community even when one of their own may lose everything.
The movie is a harsh coming-of-age tale as the main character Ree plods through life with stoic determination, refusing to yield even when the situation appears hopeless. Jennifer Lawrence portrays her role with a high level of credibility, with her haunted eyes, and grim appearance. This is a difficult movie to sit through - there is hardly any light-hearted moments, even the scenes of Ree's younger siblings playing around some hay bales is portrayed in grayish and bleak hues. The effect of meth on some of the inhabitants in this region is shown through the gaunt appearances and the undertones of tension and barely suppressed anger/violence.
The cinematography is achingly beautiful, so at odds with the grim portrayal of life in these parts. The music is amazing, and perfectly captures the spirit of a paradoxical community - one which sticks close together yet can also turn on each other. "Winter's Bones" is a beautifully-filmed, and credibly acted drama that illuminates one young girl's journey towards closure and hope.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
"Winter's Bone" is set in the Ozarks during a hard winter for a 17 year old girl taking care of her dirt poor family. Her mother has had a nervous breakdown, and her father has jumped bail for charges of making methamphetamine. The 17 year old, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), has had to grow up fast, and take on parenting her two younger siblings. They are living on the edge - almost starving - when she learns from the local bail bondsman that her father put a lien on their home. The sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) informs her that her father, Jessup, has not shown up for his scheduled court appearance, and she only has a week to find him. Ree feels the overwhelming responsibility of making sure the family can keep the land and home, their only asset and place to live. She steels her spirit and is determined to keep the house and property.
Ree sets out to find her father, knowing her life could be in danger as well. She has many confrontations, and a physical beating by the local farmers to keep her off her father's trail. The worst thing in the community is to be a "snitch". She hears rumors that her dad was killed in a methamphetamine brewing session that went wrong. She does not believe it, but continues to confront her father's pals in his drugged life. Her Uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes) helps her in a round-about way, as well as a crusty old hag named Merab (Dale Dickey) who knows more than she lets on. The whole community is covering up for the illegal drugs and bad habits of their "clan". The ties that bind are revealed through their squalid, near Neanderthal living conditions. The community reminded me of junkyard dogs all fighting for a bone, but bonded by blood and experience.
Slowly clues add up for Jessup's fate and Ree's realization she has to carry the full responsibility of family.
The movie is rough and tender, a fantastic story of strength when life is cold and cruel. "Winter's Bone" is fabulous in all facets, the noir cinematography
and location all combine synergy with a great story and fantastic acting by the entire cast.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
WINTER'S BONE is one of 2010's most honored movies earning 4 Oscar noms including Picture, Actress and supporting actor---and they deserve it.
Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant in her emotionally mature performance as the determined Ree. With just a look, she melts your heart. John Hawkes is superb as her druggie uncle who manages to convey both fear and compassion. The whole ensemble is perfect.
WINTER's BONE is a grim, unflinching look at family relationships and trapped people, but it is also moving and tender. Ree's love for her family is inspiring.
WINTER's BONE probably won't win any Oscars but it's a stunning movie. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2015
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This was such a great movie. I had never heard of it until my brother recommended it to me. I tried finding it at stores and finally realized it was probably available on Amazon. It was fairly inexpensive to order and my husband and I both really enjoyed watching it. A must see, suspenseful drama filmed on location depicting the plight of a poor girl forced to grow up way too soon. Very well scripted and acted. I would definitely recommend this, especially if you are a Jennifer Lawrence fan.