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February 17, 2011

A Review of Oscar Nominee "Winter's Bone"

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Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, Roadside Attractions, 2010

Living in the backwoods of the Ozarks is no picnic in the best of circumstances -- but even worse when your Daddy’s skipped out on his bail and your house and land are at stake.  

That’s the pickle 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in. Daddy Jessup skipped out on a “crank cooking” charge and now Ree, her young brother, young sister and incapacitated mother are close to being thrown off their land and into the woods.  

Trying to head that off, Ree goes looking for Dad. That means questioning her less than law abiding relatives who ain’t too keen on answering. See they’re all in the “crank cooking,” or as it’s more commonly known, meth lab business, and between them and the bounty hunter on her Dad's tail, Ree's got her hands full.

The film is a character study of Ree, a young woman trying to cope with very adult problems with no adult help. Her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), who is also in the family business, eventually tries to help her out, but for a majority of the movie, Ree is on her own.

The movie is kind of slow and more than once I checked the clock to see how far along I was. Except for Ree, the characters are on the lifeless side, serving simply to move the plot forward, and that's the film's major weakness. Winter's Bone was directed by Debra Granik and written by Granik and Anne Rosellini, and though I love that women were the guiding force behind it, it plays like a good TV movie. Not an excellent one. Just a good one.

Oscar Comes Calling

Now let’s talk Oscar. Is the movie Best Picture material? Um no. This is one of those circumstances where in the old days of only five Best Picture noms, Winter’s Bone would have never gotten a Best Picture nod, but with ten slots to fill it was easy enough to slide in.

Should Jennifer Lawrence have been nominated for Best Actress? Sure. She’s the linchpin of the movie and she's a talented actress. There's one climatic scene in the film that's taut and shocking, and it’s there especially that Lawrence earns her Oscar nom.

But will she win? Um no. Too much megawattage Best Actress competition for that.  

And whatever you do, don't buy into the over-hyped promotion of the film as a thriller because it's not. I'll agree that it's a mystery, but a mild one. Elspeth at Cinemaroll hits it on the nose when she says:

Winter’s Bone is unfairly called a thriller, as it is too slow and has not enough plot drive. It is more of a study in… I pause – what is this film? If it had been on television, I would have switched over, and the only thing of interest is Ree. Few worded slow talking people don’t make much of a character to me, although they did manage to be touching at times.

Finally, despite what Eslpeth and I think, there are a lot of people out there who love Winter's Bone. Here’s a sampling:

Danae D’Arcy at her blog:

Excellent movie. The acting is amazing, the story line believable and the darkness of the situation is captured so well that the viewer is left with an aching heart. To my great surprise, though, the writer managed to end the film on a high note.

Siobhan at Siobhan on Film:

Tightly paced, Winter’s Bone is a wonderful thriller: the pure isolation of the Ozark area and the strange oppression this isolation presents is beautifully captured. The plot may not be overly complex, and at times is fairly simplistic, but the film is nonetheless impressively engaging throughout.

Sage Slowdive at her blog:

It's surprising how well the mystery of the story is kept and how tense the director handles everything. I love the atmosphere, being stuck out in the woods, where the main character can feel safe yet can be in so much danger

Maggie at Mad Maggie’s Movie Reviews:

It isn’t a pleasant, feel-good kind of movie. It is real, intense and sometimes hard to watch. Both Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes give performances to die for.

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