Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2010
Directed by
Debra Granik
100 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars

Winter's Bone

Synopsis: Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has been looking after her younger brother, sister and mother since their father went missing. When a bail bondsman turns up at the door to tell him they’ll be repossessing the house, Ree goes hunting for her father. Something you never do when you’re in a hillbilly meth-cooking crime family.

When I went to see Winter’s Bone I had no idea what to expect. And half an hour in, I began to suspect I’d seen this all before, one way or another. Anyone who has attended a film festival knows the style all too well. An isolated individual struggling to survive in an indifferent and ignorant world. Typical indie cinema fare, with only the performances of some soon-to-be mainstream stars to set it apart from every other film like it. Someone is going to discover themselves, find their inner strength and overcome all obstacles. I was getting ready to yawn.

And then something happened. Instead of being a piece of shouty exploitative poverty voyeurism, Winter’s Bone went deeper and deeper, taking you inside a culture where there are rules of behaviour and ways to get things done. Rather than make us see the horrible injustice of everything taking place, societal norms slowly came to light. As things get darker and nastier, the world becomes less confusing and most surprisingly of all, Ree is revealed to be an insider. She knew the rules and broke them, and it cost her, but in doing so she’s learned them anew. So while she struggles she’s not an innocent. The police and the law are the enemy and she sets herself against them. The drug dealers she encounters may not be her friends but they are family, and no matter what they do to her, they remain that way. There’s a remarkable scene after she’s betrayed and beaten half to death, where her betrayer stays with her and nurses her back to health. It’s not personal, it’s the rules and she needs to abide by them. And she accepts that even if it means she has to fight continuously to save her family.

Winter’s Bone is a grim and stunning work of elaborate gothic sensibility. If it were a horror movie I’d be comparing it to something out of Lovecraft, an unseen evil cult working in your midst that slowly takes you over. As it is, it’s not horror, but it is deeply unsettling. Ree is our hero, but by the end she proves that she’s no outsider and no victim either. She belongs and she chooses to belong. It’s a great reversal of expectation, and the subtle way it draws you in is creepy. There are scenes of violence that are hard to shake, and a sense of menace that covers the land. Her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes) is an unforgettable character and the mixture of love and fear that Ree holds towards him tells you just how strange and awful the world she inhabits is and how tightly bound are the bonds of family.

A total surprise, especially given its slyly misleading beginning, Winter’s Bone is a film you should not miss.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst