Directed by: Debora Granik
Premise: A teen girl (Jennifer Lawrence) living in poverty in the rural south discovers that her indigent mother and younger siblings will be evicted if her drug dealing father jumps bail. With his court date looming, the teen begins a quest to find what has become of her father.
What Works: Winter’s Bone is a tale of discovery and adolescence giving way to adulthood. Part coming of age tale, part murder mystery, and part Southern Gothic horror story, Winter’s Bone is understated but very effective and the film achieves an atmosphere of malevolence and violence without lots of theatrics. As the teen uncovers her father’s connections to local criminals, the film takes some very dark turns and many of the actors play their criminal roles in a very natural way that has a lot of menace that comes across as very authentic. Although there is little on screen violence in Winter’s Bone, the film successfully creates the impending threat of it and that threat hangs over the duration of the story. This is achieved in large part through the cinematography; the film is lit and photographed very naturally and it captures the cold and the mud of the setting, giving the film an organic quality that makes it very real. Two performances stand out in Winter’s Bone. The first is Jennifer Lawrence as the female lead. The character is simultaneously mother and daughter, taking care of her family while also trying to reconnect with her father, and that tension is brought out wonderfully by Lawrence who alternates smoothly between motherly authority and adolescent innocence. The other standout performance of the film is John Hawkes as the ex-con uncle. Hawkes is tough and abrasive but as the film goes along his character is changed by his relationship with his niece. It isn’t done in a contrived way that sells out the credibility of the film for Hollywood happiness, but does suggest a glimmer of hope in the uncle’s otherwise despondent life.
What Doesn’t: Winter’s Bone has a weak resolution to the main character’s problem. It might even be described as a deus ex machina solution, as the main character gets a solution without having to face a choice or sacrifice. It is a disappointing ending to what is up until the ending a very lean and credible story.
DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, featurette, music video, and a trailer.
Episode: #317 (December 5, 2010)