I have to say it — Winter’s Bone left me cold. The acting is very good, the dialogue is naturalistic, and the art direction paints a vivid, textured picture of rural Missouri that is both lost in time and vibrantly present. The lead, Jennifer Lawrence, turns in a steely, raw performance. So what’s the problem? I don’t know if Daniel Woodrell’s novel on which this is based is the issue, or if it is the screenplay adaptation, but this narrative was unnecessarily opaque and spins its wheels. Lawrence plays Ree, a 17 year-old girl struggling to raise her younger siblings, care for her catatonic mother, and support herself. Her absent father runs from the law, running meth labs and creating trouble.
Despite Ree keeping the family’s noses clean, the sins of the father are visited upon his children, though it’s not entirely clear why. When Ree goes out to find him in order to save the house, she encounters both kin and kith who have all manner of things to hide and basically mercilessly thwart and threaten her. I never could ken why she was in such peril from them, nor how a situation such as hers could even exist. It’s clear dad Jessup was an unsavory creature, and she harbors no sentiment for him, but why the neighbors close ranks against her is ambiguous.
The squalor of their lives seems impenetrable and incurable, yet Ree manages to keep their lives just barely together; in her daddy search, islands of downhome normalcy bloom at unexpected moments. It’s difficult to imagine these folks complaining about any first world problems you or I might experience just by dint of you reading this on a computer, like snowglobes being banned from carry-on luggage or the long lines for the new iPhone. These folks take free use of a log splitter as charity, and a brace of fresh squirrel as a feast. I admit I spent a lot of time stepping back from the interminable parade of mysterious roadblocks Ree encounters (sample paraphrase: “I done tol’ you not to come ’round here, you know why”) to marvel at the realism of the sets and the ground-in warp and woof of the characters. The people and places are so vivid, you can practically smell the naugahyde, lard, musty couches, and stale cigarette smoke.
I could not fathom the CIA-level security these trashy neighbors were employing to protect — or to punish? — a member of their community they clearly feel no regard for. As a result, I felt very left out and disconnected, even more so than by our lifestyle differences. In a climactic moment, Ree has a terrible experience I feel quite sure none of my readers ever will — and while Lawrence is giving us a great performance here, such that it never feels like she’s acting, I was so disenchanted by the dead-end-ridden story that I could not appreciate the full measure of her good work.
MPAA Rating R-drug materials, language, violent content
Release date 6/11/10
Time in minutes 100
Director Debra Granik
Studio Roadside Attractions