MISSOURI: THE SHOW ME STATE.
SHOW ME YOU’RE CRAZY.
Review by Paul Preston
The biggest asset “Winter’s Bone” has is authenticity. The story goes beyond a world I know in exploring the depths of a culture of meth use and violence, but the starkness of a bleak, backwoods existence where hope and optimism are not so much in sight was on display in my Upstate New York upbringing for sure, so the film has an unsettling familiarity. That was a huge sentence. Let me be more succinct going forward.
“Winter’s Bone” is about a young girl named Ree with WAY too much on her plate. Her mom is in some sort of sick social withdrawal, she’s caring for her siblings, while estranged from her father, getting unwanted visits from the police and threats from the local meth underground for “snooping around”. There’s another long sentence. Let me just say that the people in this film don’t talk in long sentences. They are toughened, grim losers who you would never want to meet, and when Ree comes across them, their menace is palpable.
It seems Ree’s father was involved in this drug world, and the cops are after him. If they can’t find him, Ree could lose her family’s house. A lot of shit going down for a seventeen-year old. When Ree pokes around the locals looking for her dad, she’s intimidated and beaten.
“Winter’s Bone” does a fine job of creating a place and a tone, but I never entirely understood the intentions of the terrifying adults. Sure, I knew that sometimes their intentions were “beat” or “kill”, but they often acted as if they hid the town secret of the local werewolf, but no such wolf ever shows. The people just act creepy “because”.
I guess “Winter’s Bone” is a coming-of-age story about a young girl whose age will be to take her place with the scared, menacing adults populating the sparse woods. I say “I guess” not because I don’t understand the movie, it’s just that I wish I was describing this movie a little differently. I wish I was more involved.
One scene that did work for me was when Ree talks to an Army counselor about joining the service. He straight-up tells her that given how entrenched she is (already at 17) in her life with so many responsibilities that leaving to tour ‘round the world with the Army isn’t her best option. It’s the truth. And the truth hurts.
Breakout star Jennifer Lawrence gives a performance beyond her years for sure, and fellow Oscar nominee John Hawkes brings an assured sense of danger to his scenes as Ree’s uncle Teardrop, even when the character’s allegiance is a wavering for no real reason other than Ree needs SOMEONE on her side.
I think The Academy wanted to nominate this film for Best Picture because it was such a Sundance hit. Well congrats, Oscar, you have your indie cred. But the film isn’t as emotional as “Blue Valentine” or as scary as “Shutter Island”, two films I would’ve nominated instead. The best lesson to take from “Winter’s Bone”: Never go to Missouri.
Directed by: Debra Granik
Release Date: June 11, 2010
Run Time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Anonymous Content