Movie Review: WINTER’S BONE

Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for drama this year, resembles two previous winners, Frozen River in 2008 and Precious last year, in being the kind of movie that’s well crafted but saying I loved it would be inappropriate due to its unrelenting bleakness in depicting people driven to take desperate action just to survive.

The movie, based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel, takes place in Missouri’s Ozarks and follows seventeen-year-old Ree as she searches for her meth-cooking dad after he puts up their house for bail then disappears. She’s also trying to take care of two younger siblings and her mother, who has slipped into a non-responsive, shell-shocked state. The people in Ree’s community don’t want her asking questions, which lead to some disturbing discoveries.

I saw it with PCN contributor, Eric Edwards, with whom I had the following conversation to process our thoughts about the film.

Pop Culture Nerd: I wish you’d taken a picture of my face when the credits rolled. It would’ve summed up my feelings about this movie perfectly.

Eric Edwards: When your jaw was just hanging open?

PCN: Yeah. This movie is so unsettling, from beginning to end. What did you think?

EE: I’m probably going to be haunted by it a little. Those characters in the movie reminded me of my own rural upbringing though I’m not from the Ozarks. I could draw many parallels to people I grew up with.

PCN: Did you cook meth and play the banjo?

EE: No, meth was not part of my childhood but the banjo did feature prominently. And I saw more full sets of teeth in this movie than I expected.

PCN: Everybody was so creepy with their dead stares and quiet menace. They looked like they could erupt into violence at the drop of a hat and it made me so tense, bracing myself for it.

EE: But we actually saw very little violence. It was implied and you see the aftereffects. It’s a true testament to the storytelling that the movie makes you feel that way without going all Tarantino. The thing that disturbed me the most was watching Ree’s little sister be exposed to so much hardship. I just wanted to take her out of there and give her a better life.

PCN: I felt that way about all the kids. I hate it when children have to suffer. Jennifer Lawrence was amazing as Ree. This is a star-making role, for sure. She was so still and confident, something some actors don’t know how to be on screen. They think chewing scenery equals great acting, but a good actor knows economy of movement can be much more effective.

EE: She did most of her acting with her eyes.

PCN: Yeah, there were moments when she was talking and acting tough but you could see in her eyes how scared she was. Hey, side note: What do you think about her for Lisbeth Salander in the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

EE: The coloring’s all wrong; she’d have to dye her hair. She could be tough enough but I don’t know if those baby cheeks will translate to Lisbeth.

PCN: You’re right. Just a thought. Let’s talk about John Hawkes, who plays Teardrop.

EE: Oh, man, does that guy have a thousand-yard stare or what? That face reads like a road map to anger. You could see the rage steaming off him. My only issue is that he was too controlled for all that meth he was snorting. He’d have the shakes.

PCN: Ah, I wouldn’t know anything about that. Hawkes just scared the beans out of me every time he was on screen. He reminded me of a younger Harry Dean Stanton. And you know who else scared me? Patty the day whore from My Name is Earl.

EE: What’s her real name again?

PCN: I keep forgetting. [Going to IMDb.] It’s Dale Dickey. No wonder we always forget. It’s a man’s name.

EE: Right! It’s a complete 180 turn here from what she did on Earl. It’s impressive how she can be equally adept at both comedy and drama.

PCN: I’ve seen her do drama before and she is good.

EE: Yeah, but nothing on this level.

PCN: Did the movie move too slowly for you? Some parts did for me. Ree did a lot of walking around and asking questions but nobody would tell her anything so nothing was happening.

EE: That didn’t bother me. It just added to the bleakness and authenticity of her situation. It goes to the code that rural people have of sticking together and keeping your mouth shut or you’ll be damn sorry you opened your trap.

PCN: So, does the movie make you want to read the book?

EE: Yeah. I have a few questions because some plot points went by too fast for me and I want to see if it covers how they all got to be in that situation.

PCN: I heard the novel is superb. Let me borrow it after you’re done.

PCN verdict: Tough, raw Bone. EE verdict: Winter’s cuts to the Bone.

Photos: Sebastian Mlynarski/Roadside Attractions



  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    June 26, 2010 at 6:14 am

    Wish this was showing in my town.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2010 at 8:39 am

    The book is extraordinary. Funny you specifically commented about the little sister though, because in the book both siblings are boys. Wonder why they felt the need to change that.

  • Reply
    Sara J. Henry
    June 26, 2010 at 10:12 am

    The book is superb; can’t wait to see the movie. Here’s an excellent review of the movie by Reed Farrel Coleman.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    One fine review. I always enjoy the tag-team movie discussions you have with Eric. I’ll try and take this in (when I don’t have my kids in tow, that is). Thanks Elyse and Eric.

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    June 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Naomi—I hate it when theaters don’t play good films while crap like Transformers takes up 3 screens at your multiplex.

    Elizabeth—That’s interesting. I think I know why they changed it to a little sister: The filmmakers were making a point about how girls are viewed in that community.

    Sara—That’s such an eloquent review. Thank you for linking it.

    le0pard13—Thank you. When I have complex feelings about a movie, Eric really helps me sort through them.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    1. Daniel Woodrell has been one of my top 3 favorite authors since I read Give Us a Kiss in 1996.

    2. I rarely enjoy a movie as much as I do a book.

    3. Winter’s Bone is one of the best, most well-done movies I’ve seen in a long, long time.

    4. I would caveat 3. above with the fact that last night I suffered through The Time-Traveler’s Wife, but I don’t think it ultimately had any impact on my enjoyment of W’s B. Though TTW was my third dud in a row, so I was ready for some of the good s***. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 27, 2010 at 10:40 am

      Are you a fan of TTTW novel? I loved that book but the movie fell way short, though I didn’t think it was an outright disaster. It just couldn’t capture the emotional depth of the novel and Eric Bana was all wrong for me as Henry.

      What were the other two duds you watched? The Back-up Plan? Remember Me?

      • Reply
        June 27, 2010 at 11:00 am

        I did like the novel. It wasn’t an all-time fave or anything, but I really liked it. I also thought Bana was wrong for Henry. I almost turned it off after the first 50 minutes, but the last hour or so I actually liked. Loved Alba. I’m kind of on the fence about Rachel McAdams.

        Did you read Her Fearful Symmetry? Middling to poor reviews and length have kept me away thus far. I’m a 300-page girl. Unless you’re writing something really damn interesting, I’m ready for something new after roughly 300 pages.

        Other stinkers were The Box (should have known, but premise intrigued me. Hooked me for first 30, then went bat-shit crazy) and A Broken Life (really like Sizemore – wish he would get his s*** together someday and there were some good moment, but overall unsatifsying).

        Invictus was just ok and Shutter Island pretty much a total disappointment.

        Was on a bad roll, but WB made up for all of it.


        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          June 27, 2010 at 1:56 pm

          I did read Her Fearful Symmetry and was hugely disappointed. You can read my full review here. If you’re interested, since you mentioned you loved Alba, I also did an interview with the McCann sisters who played the role here.

          I’m with you on the pages thing. I’ve read books under 300 pages that had a much bigger impact on me than 600-page tomes. In my experience as an editor, I’ve often found the extra pages to be more redundant than necessary.

          Thanks for the heads up on Box and Broken Life. I won’t be touching those. Watching Sizemore gives me anxiety. Haven’t seen Invictus, was also disappointed by Shutter Island. Glad it wasn’t just me. I was baffled by a lot of reviews calling it brilliant.

          • Reply
            June 27, 2010 at 2:10 pm

            Thanks for those links, E. You saved me from HFS, and now I will no longer wonder if I’m missing anything. Great i’view with the sisters McCann. Dumbass that I am, it didn’t even occur to me that the role was played by sisters of a different age. Very cool. They were just so cute and seemed like young girls I would have liked to hang out with rather than…well, let’s just leave it at girls I wouldn’t want to hang out with. ๐Ÿ™‚

            Interesting you share the 300 page syndrome. There are exceptions, of course, but it takes a lot for me to take the plunge. I just finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I adored, even though it could have been shorter. And I have recently buckled and bought both Matterhorn (sucker for that type of book, especially one so well-received) and The Passage. Much more reluctant about this one as the whole ‘vampire’ thing is beyond my interest (way beyond my interest) but so many people have said “It’s not about THAT!” and raved that I caved.

            Invictus was good, I think I was just expecting more. Shutter Island defies my description, I’m still not sure what to think other than that I was disappointed. Then again, it wasn’t my favorite Lehane book, either, so that might have had something to do with it.

            Finishing 61 Hours today. Reacher rocks. Per usual.

            • Reply
              Pop Culture Nerd
              June 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm

              I don’t think I can deal with Matterhorn or Passage. I don’t read a lot of Vietnam War stories and don’t like vampires, either. I also have this weird aversion to reading something I’ve heard too much about. (Refuse to read Da Vinci Code and luckily found Stieg Larsson before his books exploded over here.)

              Let me know what you think of 61 Hours after you’re done. Did you end up making any bets at all with your friend? No free dinner?

              • Reply
                June 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm

                Just finished 61 Hours. No bets made, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. ๐Ÿ™‚ Or perhaps let’s say I’m just too honest to cheat, yeah, that’s it. Hmmm, liked some things, didn’t like others. We’ll have to chat when no fear of spoiling for anyone.

                I have the populace aversion as well. But some things override. I, too, beat the Larsson rush, or it might have fallen prey. But it also depends who is recommending. I actually DID read Da Vinci Code and liked it. A fast, entertaining read has its place.

                I’ll let you know about Matterhorn and Passage. Passage seemed to perhaps be more about the detective and the girl, which I found interesting. As for Matterhorn, I’ve heard many raves and also have a strange feeling of obligation to read about some things, Vietnam being one of them.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    Saw it today….I agree with you. You should have seen MY face as the credits rolled. I was speechless. Really tough stuff. I gotta read the book now.

  • Reply
    June 27, 2010 at 12:44 am

    Would anyone recommend reading the book first?

    • Reply
      June 27, 2010 at 9:02 am

      #9 – My response is a bit biased. I think that Woodrell’s words should be allowed to paint their own incredible picture. For me, his language is more than the story. So my recommendation would be to read the book first, but that’s just one opinion and entirely subjective. But do do both! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    June 28, 2010 at 2:56 am

    Nope, I’ll be passing on this one. Call me shallow, but I do my best not to voluntarily put myself through the wringer for entertainment. I like to be transported to my happy place! But thanks for the excellent review, PCN and Eric.

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    June 28, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    You don’t like to be depressed and made to feel like you want to throw yourself off a bridge, Shell? Truth be told, if I didn’t get to go to free screenings, I’d probably also hesitate to spend my money on tickets to hell. But this is a good movie that made me feel more enlightened if not happier afterward.

    • Reply
      June 28, 2010 at 2:44 pm

      Funny, I was just coming on here to write the same thing. To me, while the topic and some of the events are certainly sad, tragic, depressing, this was a story of strength and hope and overcoming. And I’m not a half-glass full optimist of a person. ๐Ÿ™‚ Maybe I’m drawn to movies like this because seeing people fight through circumstances rougher than anything I have or likely ever will endure gives me a kick in the ass, hope in humanity, whatever. But I’m drawn to them. Totally get the other view, however.

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        June 28, 2010 at 2:52 pm

        You’re not a Pollyanna type? What are you doing on this site? Don’t you know I only write about rainbows and Care Bears?

        • Reply
          June 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm

          Somebody has to balance out the unicorns dancing out of your a**.

          • Reply
            Pop Culture Nerd
            June 28, 2010 at 8:57 pm

            Them’s unicorns flying out back there? Thanks for clearing that up. All this time I thought it was something I ate causing those sharp pains.

  • Reply
    November 22, 2010 at 8:19 am

    The best word I have for this film is strong. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was amazing. [I have to say, her slight resemblance to one of my sisters made the movie a bit more tense for Brian and I.] John Hawkes put me in mind of Harry Dean Stanton as well. And you’re right, saying I loved the film doesn’t seem quite proper when you consider Ree’s world; but I did love this film.

    “…looked like they could erupt into violence at the drop of a hat and it made me so tense, bracing myself for it.” I couldn’t agree more. Just couldn’t relax completely even if the character seemed to be “assisting” Ree. Teardrop definitely, but the women gave me the greater sense of being unpredictable.

    A few scenes just killed me with their emotional punch. 1) Ree asking Sonya if she can take on their horse; 2) Ree meeting with the recruiter and 3) Begging her mom to help her “just this once”. I think I was more angry when the recruiter was basically telling her that she’s just got to hang in there and pull herself up by the bootstraps than when the women dealt with her. I just kept thinking, “Buddy, you don’t know from tough.”

    Meeting Daniel Woodrell at Bouchercon in October was a pleasure and highlight of the convention! The book is in my TBR pile and really looking forward to reading it! I’m especially pleased that those who’ve already read the book were not disappointed by the movie.

    BTW, I’m a fan of your tag-team review, as well!

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