Based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel, Winter’s Bone tells the story of a 17-year old girl living in poverty with her young siblings at the Ozarks Mountains. When the home she and her sibling live in is in danger as they face even worse poverty, the girl tries to find her father where she discovers a dark world of drugs as she turns to her uncle for help. Directed by Debra Granik with a script adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini, the film is a haunting coming-of-age tale set into a world that is mystifying as rural as the Ozarks. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Garrett Dillahunt, Dale Dickey, Lauren Sweetser, Sheryl Lee, and John Hawkes. Winter’s Bone is a compelling yet harrowing drama from Debra Granik and company.
17-year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a rural area in the Ozarks Mountains in Missouri with her two young siblings in Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson). Also living with them is their mother Connie (Valerie Richards) , who is depressed and withdrawn as they scrape by with whatever they live with. Even as they get help from their neighbor Sonya (Shelley Waggener) who often takes care of their horse. When a sheriff (Garrett Dillahunt) arrives to reveal to Ree that her father Jeesup has skipped bail and used the house as collateral. Ree realizes that she needs to find him or else her family will be homeless.
Ree asks for help including her friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser), a friend of her dad’s name Little Arthur (Kevin Breznahan), and a woman named Victoria (Cinnamon Schultz). Victoria is the girlfriend of Ree’s uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) who doesn’t know where his brother is as he suggests to not dwell on finding Jeesup. After a suggestion from Little Arthur’s girlfriend Megan (Casey MacLaren), Ree walks to meet with Thump Milton (Ronnie Hall) whom she fears. She goes to his place to meet Merab (Dale Dickey) who says that Thump is too busy and suggests to forget about what is happening. Yet, Sonya’s boyfriend Blond Milton (William White) would reveal news about what might’ve happened to Jeesup as Ree decides to continue the search.
With Gail’s help, she and Ree meet up with Jeesup’s old girlfriend April (Sheryl Lee) who saw Jeesup two months ago as she realized that he’s been acting stranger than usual. Realizing that her family home is in danger and a bails bondsman (Tate Taylor), she tries to have a meeting with Thump only to get herself in even greater danger. Teardrop comes by to settle things as he reveals what his brother was up to as he decides to help her. With days away from losing the house, Ree tries to find ways to get money while Teardrop investigates the whereabouts of his brother. What they find is more shocking as well as the motive for the dark underworld Jessup had been involved with.
The film is a coming-of-age tale of sorts since it’s about a 17-year old girl trying to save her family’s home where she would discover a dark underworld that her father had been involved in. Yet, it’s more about the journey where Ree is someone already forced to grow up and act like an adult as she lives quite poorly with two young siblings to raise. Yet, she has all of the things a 17-year old wants including a life at high school. Still, she is devoted to her family that needs her as she takes care of her mentally-ill mother and her two young siblings. When she’s faced of losing that family and sense of security, she has to go into this treacherous adventure.
While she would get help from various people, there are two people who would warn her about the world she’s about to enter. One is her uncle Teardrop, a meth-head who is hostile yet doesn’t want Ree to enter this treacherous world as he knows something that he doesn’t want her to know. The character of Teardrop is an anti-hero of sorts who doesn’t want to get into any trouble but is reluctant about helping out his niece since she’s the closest thing to family that he has. The other character Ree encounters is Merab, an enforcer who works for an underworld boss who is intimidating and fierce as she doesn’t want Ree to find out about anything.
The film’s screenplay succeeds in not just bringing life to the characters that Ree meets but also her surroundings in the Ozarks Mountains. Yet, it’s Debra Granik’s direction that really brings a haunting yet hypnotic quality to the film. Shot on locations in the Ozarks Mountains in Missouri, there is a very realistic quality to the film where there’s very little sunlight in the film as the weather is mostly gray. Yet, it works to bring a look that feels real as if someone is at those mountains. More importantly, Granik’s direction plays things very quietly while always having the camera on the characters in intimate and sparse moments.
For the film’s more intense, dramatic moments, Granik definitely aims for suspense by having the camera follow the action. Notably a scene where Ree tries to follow Thump Milton at a cattle ranch and call out his name. Even as it would lead to a violent scene where Ree would encounter Milton and his gang including the vicious Merab. Every scene including a meeting between Ree and an army recruiter (Russell Schalk) has something to do with the story. Overall, Granik’s direction is superb for her eerie compositions and gritty approach to storytelling.
Cinematographer Michael McDonough does a fabulous job with the film‘s cinematography with its realistic yet wonderful look for many of the film‘s exterior scenes. Even at night where the darkness feels real and adds suspense to the film including a chilling scene at the lake. Most of the interiors are very intimate in its lighting while the camera is mostly steady with a few hand-held shots as McDonough’s work is wonderful to watch.
Editor Affonso Goncalves does an excellent job with the film’s editing by presenting it in a straightforward manner while maintaining a leisured pace for the film. Even in creating fast-paced cuts and rhythms for the more suspenseful scenes of the film. Production designer Mark White and set decorator Rebecca Brown do fantastic work with the decayed, messy look of the home Ree and her family lives in along with the surroundings of the other characters filled with decayed trailer parks and broken down cars. Even as it adds a real sense of authenticity to what it really looks like in the world of the rural South. Costume designer Rebecca Hofherr does a very good job with the film’s costumes as it plays to the realistic tone with characters wearing flannel and other winter-like clothing.
Sound editor Damian Volpe does a superb job with the film‘s sound in capturing the eerie atmosphere of the Ozarks from the winds and lakes nearby to the interior places such as the cattle halls and bars that the characters interact in. The film’s score by Dickon Hinchliffe is definitely one of the film’s technical highlights as it plays to haunting tone of the film with sparse, ambient-like pieces driven by guitars and keyboards. Even as the rest of the film’s music is a mixture of folk and traditional music.
Casting by Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee is phenomenal as many of the people in the film are non-actors which adds authenticity to the characters the people play. Among the notable small performances include Cody Brown as Gail’s husband Floyd, Russell Schalk as an army recruiter, Beth Domann and Charlotte Jeane Lucas as a couple of Merab’s acquaintances, Tate Taylor as a no-nonsense bails bondsman, Kevin Breznahan as a fellow meth-head named Little Arthur, Casey MacLaren as Little Arthur’s girlfriend as Megan, William White as Ree’s neighbor Blond Floyd, and Ronnie Hall as crime boss Thump Milton. Other notable small roles include Sheryl Lee as an ex-girlfriend of Ree’s father, Valerie Richards as Ree’s depressed, mute mother, Lauren Sweester as Ree’s friend Gail, Cinnamon Schultz as Teardrop’s girlfriend Victoria, and Shelley Waggener as sympathetic neighbor Sonya.
Garrett Dillahunt is very good as the local sheriff who reminds Ree of what she’s facing as he is also a man trying to do good though has issues with Teardrop during a showdown between the two. Isaiah Stone and Ashlee Thompson are excellent in their respective roles as Sonny and Ashlee, the two young siblings of Ree who are aware of what is going on as they help her out in hunting food and such. Dale Dickey is amazing as Merab, Thump Milton’s enforcer who is an intimidating presence in look and in performance. Dickey brings a chilling and forceful performance as a woman no one wants to mess with as she is also someone who doesn’t want a young girl like Ree to get into the dark underworld she surrounds herself with.
John Hawkes is superb as Teardrop, Ree’s meth-head uncle who is a hostile man not wanting to get Ree into the dark underworld of drugs. Yet, when he realizes that his brother is missing and Ree needs his help. He becomes an unlikely sympathetic figure despite his flaws as Hawkes plays the character with an uneasy yet quiet performance as a man haunted by his own demons as wants to know the truth about his brother’s disappearance. Finally, there’s Jennifer Lawrence in what is a definitely breakthrough role as Ree Dolly. Lawrence’s performance is truly outstanding in the way she plays a young girl beyond her years as she is also someone who acts like a mother to her young siblings while determined to find out what happened to her dad. It’s a very grounded role that has a young woman wanting to find out the truth, even if it puts her in danger as Lawrence steps up to the play by maintaining a calm approach to her character. It’s definitely one of the year’s best performances.
Winter’s Bone is a phenomenal film from Debra Granik that feature a great performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Along with wonderful supporting roles from John Hawkes and Dale Dickey, it’s a film that truly solidifies all that is good with no-holds-barred, raw, and compelling American indie cinema. Even as it gives a director like Debra Granik a chance to be profiled more as she is definitely a true visionary. Audiences wanting a thriller or suspense film with lots of realism will find it in a film like this as it doesn’t play to any rules while creating characters that are truly engaging. In the end, Winter’s Bone is an exhilarating and captivating film from Debra Granik and company.
Debra Granik Films: Down to the Bone - (Stray Dog (2014 film)) - Leave No Trace
© thevoid99 2011