Filmreview Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone has a screenplay by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini that was based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name. Winter’s Bone tells the story of Ree Dolly, who cares for her younger siblings and mentally ill mother in their home in the Ozarks and her journey to find her bail hopping father who has put the home under threat of foreclosure.
Ree Dolly (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is a seventeen year old girl who lives in a smallholding in the Ozark Mountains with her twelve year old brother, Sonny (played by Isaiah Stone) and her six year old sister, Ashlee (played by Ashlee Thompson). As well as caring for her younger siblings, Ree also takes care of her mentally ill mother. Her father Jessup is absent. The family live in virtual destitution and rely heavily on the handouts of their neighbours and Ree gives the family horse to them as she can no longer afford to feed it.
In order to feed the family, Ree relies on hunting and you see her showing the children how to shoot, skin and cook a squirrel. This part of the film is reputed to be part of the inspiration to give Jennifer Lawrence the role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games the following year.
Jessup has been arrested on a charge of meth cooking and put up the family house as part bond for his bail. The remaining being put up in cash by an anonymous person. When he fails to turn up for trial the local bondsman (played by Tate Taylor) interrogates Ree and tells her that she has a week to get Jessup to turn himself in or the family will be evicted.
Ree attempts to join the army partially for the $40,000 pay out, but is told that she is too young and in any case the money might not be paid out for a year or more. This prompts her to the only remaining course of action, finding her father.
Ree’s attempts to find her father are thwarted at every turn and even Jessup’s own brother Teardrop (played by John Hawkes), who is a meth addict, is reluctant to help. Traveling further afield she eventually tries to get information from the local ‘boss’ Milton (played by Ronnie Hall) who refuses to see her because ‘Talking produces witnesses’. Milton’s female kin warn Ree off forcefully and the only information she receives is that her father died in a meth lab explosion, which Ree refuses to believe because her father was too skilled in his work.
After suffering frustration Ree attempts to see Milton again, first at a cattle auction and then again at his home where she is waylaid by the women. They beat Ree mercilessly although she gets in a few punches of her own and even bites one of her assailants but eventually she is overwhelmed and they drag her into the barn. Waking up bloodied and swollen she tells the women they may as well kill her when she is rescued by Teardrop. The men and women let him take her because no one wants to face him in a fight.
Teardrop tells Ree that her father has been killed as he was about to turn informant on the other meth ‘cookers’ and that one of the others had put up the extra cash to get him out of jail so that they could kill him. He warns Ree not to tell him if she ever finds out the identity of the killer and also not to go near Milton or his family again.
A few days later the women show up at Ree’s house and, after first being threatened with a scattergun, finally persuade Ree that they have come to ‘put an end to all the nonsense’.
They take Ree to the place where her father’s body has been hidden and help her remove his hands as proof that he is dead. Ree informs the sheriff (played by Garret Dillahunt) that somebody had ‘thrown them up on the porch of the house’ the previous night.
Having provided proof that Jessup is dead, Ree is allowed to keep the house and the woods. The following day, the bondsman turns up to hand Ree her what remained of the separate bond cash thus providing her with the means to finally feed and provide for her family. The film ends with her promising her brother and sister that she will never leave them.
The films main strength lies in the fact that it is not made as a judgemental film. There are none of the normal stereotypes that usually abound in films about ‘mountain folk’. The storyline, like the scenery is bleak yet with an underlying beauty. The actors involved all play their parts with a sincerity that makes you believe and whereas their attitudes can be viewed as misogynistic in parts (women are expected to keep their place and do as they are told) it is not done in a sensationalistic way.
Ree is no ordinary heroine, she is not the kick ass badass that would be required in a Hollywood blockbuster; she is vulnerable and gentle and yet strong and resolute. Her only concern is for her family but you can believe that beneath the surface lies grit and iron. The contempt on her face when spitting out a tooth upon waking after the beating would have grown men quailing.
All the actors can be applauded in this film but it is in Jennifer Lawrence that we experience a depth of astonishing maturity. Her performance has been described by Peter Travers, writing for ‘Rolling Stone’, as ‘Not so much acting, as a gathering storm’.
In fact, it was on the strength of this performance that she was picked out of a pool of more than thirty actresses to play Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.
Originally, Jennifer had trouble convincing the studio that she would be right for the role of Ree as they felt the role of the young Ozark girl would be too much for this girl who, until then, had only played supporting roles and comedy.
Undeterred by this, Jennifer set out to change their minds. To this end she turned up to a second reading of the script flying in on the red eye. Jennifer turned up having had no sleep, wearing no make-up and hair that hadn’t been washed for a week then proceeded to give a reading that ‘sent chills’ through the studio. The result was electrifying. Jennifer said about the role: “I’d have walked on coals to get the part. I thought it was the best female role I’d read – ever. I was so impressed by Ree’s tenacity and that she didn’t take no for an answer.” The fact that Jennifer was nominated for an Oscar for the role, the youngest woman to do so, stands testament to this film.