Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone

Film review by: Witney Seibold

Debra Granik‘s “Winter’s Bone” is one of the best films of 2010. It is set up like a detective story, but more resembles one of the unsentimental backwoods poems of David Gordon Green; it depicts a world of an almost happy life, that is just barely hanging on by its fingernails, surrounded by a blackened mist of suspicion and expectations of failure. The film’s lead character, a 17-year-old girl named Ree, is a hardworking ersatz mother of her younger siblings, who is eyeballed with an unnamable hatred by her leathered, troll-like neighbors. This is a universe of mistrust. A universe of mob-like backwoods secrets. A world where the police take a distant backseat to ancient, hazy codes of misguided frontier justice. And, through all of this horror, hope makes a desperate final glimmer.


Ree (the terrific Jennifer Lawrence, and actress to keep an eye on) lives in a shanty house in the Ozarks with her little brother and sister, who ain’t yet old enough to take care o’ themselves. Her mother is comatose, and it’s up to Ree to feed and clothe the family. A browbeating cop arrives at her door one morning to tell her that her father has put her house up as collateral on some loan or something, and if he and/or the money can’t be produced within a few days, why the cops’ll come and take away their house. In other movies, losing one’s house is an inconvenience. In this world, being thrown out into the snowy backhills of the Ozarks amounts to pretty much a death sentence. Ree vows to track down her absent father, whom she hasn’t seen in many years.

At first, Ree tries getting the needed cash in various ways, including jobs and even the Army, but her age belies her tenacity. The investigation to find her father is met with the aforementioned neighborly suspicion. If the law is involved, why would she want to turn him over? Just what are you playin’ at, girl? All we know about the father is that he is indeed a criminal, and ran in the local crystal meth trade, so he surely has some unsavory associates. She talks to one of her dad’s ex-flames, and is abused. She talks to a peer, living in a trailer with an abusive husband, only to be warned, politely, that if she keeps poking about, she’ll only find herself in a heap of trouble. The shreds of evidence she has leads to a Burl Ives-like cattle rancher, and some sort of twisted code of silence that the people of this area have taken.


But, and I need to stress this, “Winter’s Bone” is not about the mystery, or the Big Reveal. This is not a film about its clever secrets or finding the truth. The film is ultimately about Ree’s desperate, fiercely intelligent resolve, and the strength of her ability to survive. We are in a cold, muddy place that offers small bits of stable happiness so long as you’re willing to insulate yourself. Ree has that power, and has finally reached the age where she can either fall into white trash oblivion, or make a home for herself. The powers pushing her toward the former are colossal.


Ree is also budding sexually. The film is subtle on this point, but Ree knows well enough what certain meth-involved men want from her, and is very careful not to flirt or make herself available in any way. She’s a smart girl who was toughened and made sharp by her desperate surroundings. Like the films of Green, Ree lives in a word where small town tragedy, paired with ignorance and the allure of crime, can easily destroy people without them necessarily knowing that they’re being destroyed. If you’re the right kind of person, though, you may survive and look at the glitter of hope, rather than the mire of death.

Gorgeous, moving, taut, mysterious, grand. This is a great film.

Published in: on December 20, 2010 at 12:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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