Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) sets out to track down her father, who put their house up for his bail bond and then disappeared. If she fails, Ree and her family will be turned out into the Ozark woods. Challenging her outlaw kin's code of silence and risking her life, Ree hacks through the lies, evasions and threats offered up by her relatives and begins to piece together the truth.
Review by Louise Keller:
A tough tale of survival in a harsh environment, this adaptation echoes through the emotional chill and connects with us. It's an austere reality in which 17 year old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence in a star turn) has to face the unthinkable in her bid to protect her family. Kill me or help me, the desperate protagonist says to the local nasties, who rally together to keep her from discovering the whereabouts of her absent, weed-growing jailbird father. It's a moody, bleak film with a haunting quality invoked by the courage and determination of a teenager forced to confront the ugliness of a world in which she does not belong.
From the outset, when we are taken into the desolate Missouri terrain where Ree and her drug-induced mother and two young siblings, we feel the chill in the air, which is both literal and symbolic. Never ask for what ought to be offered, Ree tries to teach her 6 year old sister (Ashlee Thompson) and 12 year old brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone), but she herself is unable to follow her own advice: in order to ensure her survival, she has to demand what she needs. What she needs is to find her father, for no other reason than he has skipped bail and signed away the house that shelters the family.
Debra Granik, who co-wrote and directed this tense dramatic adaptation that took home the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and screenwriting award, injects a tangible sense of place that is filled with dread. With few words, there is much that is conveyed. The isolation of the ramshackle house; the kindly neighbour; the hostile relations; the survival skills Ree must teach her young siblings. (There is something heart-rending about a teenager showing a 6 year old how to shoot a rifle.) There is no shirking what needs to be done; we understand the tragedy that Ree has no choice, even if the screenplay does not totally satisfy our need to know certain details about characters, events and places.
Filled with tension, pauses and uncertainty, there is plenty to admire about Granik's gritty film. However, I found some of the broad Missouri accents hard to understand, although there is no misunderstanding the nastiness and malice simmering beneath the surface. John Hawkes is an evocative presence as the unlikely named Teardrop, the uncle who begrudgingly shows blood links do matter. He may be absent, but Ree's father is a key character, his negative attributes only emphasising the strength of his strong willed daughter.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Dense and dangerous, Winter's Bone takes us into the cold heart of Ozark country in Missouri, the mountainous region with its own, sometimes troubled culture. The story is as much about this culture as it is about 17 year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) surviving it. She is the heroine of the story but an unlikely one; totally unprepared for the challenges ahead of her, she has to find the way to succeed within herself.
With an ailing and useless mother, Ree has charge of her two much younger siblings when her father's disappearance threatens their entire lives: if he doesn't turn up for his trial, the family property that has been put up as bond will be confiscated.
Ree sets out to find him. That's what's at stake, but along the way as we follow the determined and plucky Ree, we meet the Ozark community in all their grumpy glory. Jessup Dolly seems to have been messing with illicit substances (like all his neighbours), but Ree's concern is the survival of the family and she becomes the crusading angel figure as she goes to great and dangerous lengths to find him.
The filmmakers adhere to authenticity of their subject matter, even to the detriment of the clarity of half the dialogue, which is lost in the acute Ozark dialect as they mumble their lines, often through beards. Enough gets through to give us a rough idea of what's going on, but still many questions remain unanswered. There is no overt exposition about what Jessup's crime was, nor why Ree's search for him rubs the locals up the wrong way so much they beat her for looking.
There is a code of silence that protects the locals, many of whom are walking on the wrong side of the law abiding road. But this film is not as much about the details of the story as the guts of it. The tone and the mood are consistent, the wintry setting forbidding, the characters silhouettes in a world of lean survival. It's the kind of filmmaking that shows off the talents of all concerned, from director Debra Granik's sure hand to Jennifer Lawrence's plucky characterisation as Ree. It's an ideal festival film, as evidenced by its Grand Jury and script awards at Sundance 2010.
PERTH - Luna Leederville
ADELAIDE - Palace Nova Eastend
MELBOURNE - Palace Balwyn
MELBOURNE - Palace Como
MELBOURNE - Palace Brighton Bay
MELBOURNE - Cinema Nova
SYDNEY - Palace Verona
SYDNEY - Palace Norton Street
BRISBANE - Palace Centro
BRISBANE - Palace Barracks
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WINTER'S BONE (MA)
CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Shelley Waggener, Ashlee Thompson, William White, Casey MacLaren, Isiah Stone, Valerie Richards, Beth Domann
PRODUCER: Alix Madigan, Anne Rosellini
DIRECTOR: Debra Granik
SCRIPT: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini (novel by Daniel Woodrell)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael McDonough
EDITOR: Affonso Goncalves
MUSIC: Dickon Hinchliffe
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark White
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Curious Film
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 11, 2010