×

Winter’s Bone

Bleak and exemplary sophomore feature from director Debra Granik.

With:
Ree - Jennifer Lawrence Teardrop - John Hawkes Little Arthur - Kevin Breznahan Merab - Dale Dickey Sheriff Baskin - Garret Dillahunt April - Sheryl Lee Gail - Lauren Sweetser Mike Satterfield - Tate Taylor

A teenage girl’s resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable physical and emotional obstacles just barely wards off the icy chill that cuts through “Winter’s Bone,” director Debra Granik’s bleak and exemplary sophomore feature. Following its brave heroine (an outstanding Jennifer Lawrence) as she seeks to uncover the truth behind her father’s disappearance, the film employs the structure of a whodunit to take a tough, unflinching look at an impoverished Ozarks community ruled by the local drug trade. Raw but utterly enveloping, “Bone” more than merits the patient distrib attention that’s become an increasingly rare commodity in the indie marketplace.

Sparely adapted by Granik and producer Anne Rosellini from a novel by Daniel Woodrell, the film amply confirms the low-budget artistry and skill with actors Granik evinced in her coincidentally similar-in-title debut, “Down to the Bone,” which won the directing award at Sundance in 2004. In its frigid rural setting (the Missouri Ozarks, where the film was entirely shot) and its story of a woman prepared to cross social and legal boundaries to keep her house and family intact, “Winter’s Bone” also bears a resemblance to another Sundance prize winner, 2008’s “Frozen River.”

With her mother in a near-catatonic state and her father in jail for cooking methamphetamine, 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Lawrence, “The Burning Plain”) is used to taking care of herself and her younger brother and sister — chopping wood from the family’s several acres of timberland and, with some help from the neighbors, just managing to put food on the table. Their already-fragile existence is further threatened when the local sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) informs her that her father, Jessup, has been released from prison and that their house and land — which Jessup had signed away as collateral — will be seized if he fails to show up for his scheduled court appearance.

Determined not to let that happen, and unfazed by rumors that Jessup died in a meth-brewing accident, Ree tries to discover her father’s whereabouts from members of his crooked circle. But every door she knocks on is answered by someone more hostile than the last, from Jessup’s gruff brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes, excellent), who warns her to mind her own business, to tough broad Merab (Dale Dickey), who’s not above resorting to physical cruelty to keep Ree from finding out too much.

As the circumstances surrounding Jessup’s fate come to light, the pic unveils a conspiracy that exposes the community’s insidious, near-tribal culture of illegal trade, rigid obedience and barely sublimated violence. The tale resolves itself in satisfying fashion, yet without giving away all its mysteries; indeed, the world Granik, lenser Michael McDonough and production designer Mark White have captured — an open junkyard where trailers and cottages are all but indistinguishable from the surrounding scrap heaps — conveys such a bone-deep sense of place, it’s hard not to imagine (even hope) that it harbors yet more evil secrets waiting to be discovered.

The film’s atmosphere of suspicion, foreboding and everyday misery would be too much to bear if not for the rich emotional anchor supplied by Lawrence. Emphasizing Ree’s patience, maturity and love for her siblings as much as her tenacity and courage, Lawrence delivers a striking portrait of someone who, though looked down upon by many for her youth and gender, alone seems to possess the guts and smarts necessary to survive and possibly even escape her surroundings. Dickey is formidably scary as a clan mother of sorts, while Hawkes brings considerable gravitas and tightly constricted emotion to his role as an uncle forced to decide where his true allegiances lie.

Script’s language has a harsh, bitter tang and plain-spoken eloquence appropriate to its Southern milieu. Shooting on a grayish palette, McDonough keeps the camera focused on Lawrence and cranks up the vague sense of menace by often framing her in the foreground as others approach her from behind.

Popular on Variety

Winter's Bone

Production: An Anonymous Content and Winter's Bone Prods. production. Produced by Anne Rosellini, Alix Madigan-Yorkin. Executive producers, Jonathan Scheuer, Shawn Simon. Co-producer, Kate Dean. Directed by Debra Granik. Screenplay, Granik, Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD), Michael McDonough; editor, Affonso Goncalves; music, Dickon Hinchliffe; production designer, Mark White; set decorator, Rebecca Brown; costume designer, Rebecca Hofherr; sound, James Demer; supervising sound editor, Damian Volpe; re-recording mixers, Dom Tavella, Volpe; stunt coordinator, Shawn Nash; line producer, Kate Dean; associate producer, McDonough; assistant director, Yann Sobezynski; second unit camera, Alan Pierce; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 23, 2010. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- Forum.) Running time: 99 MIN.

Cast: Ree - Jennifer Lawrence Teardrop - John Hawkes Little Arthur - Kevin Breznahan Merab - Dale Dickey Sheriff Baskin - Garret Dillahunt April - Sheryl Lee Gail - Lauren Sweetser Mike Satterfield - Tate Taylor

More Scene

  • Natalie Portman Benjamin Millipied LA Dance

    Natalie Portman, Benjamin Millepied Help Raise Over $1 Million For L.A. Dance Project

    Natalie Portman may be joining Chris Hemsworth in Marvel’s “Thor 4: Love and Thunder,” but as the petite, Dior-clad actress struck a range of poses on the carpet inside downtown Los Angeles gallery space Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel on Saturday night, it was impossible to imagine her wielding an enormous hammer. But then, the Oscar [...]

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld Dickinson Premiere

    Hailee Steinfeld, Jane Krakowski on What Modern Women Can Learn From Emily Dickinson

    Emily Dickinson lived in the 1800s, but if you ask the team behind Apple TV Plus’ upcoming series, “Dickinson,” her story is more current than ever. Hailee Steinfeld stars in the the modern-day retelling of the poet’s young life. The actress — who makes her first full-time foray into television with the role and also [...]

  • Don Cheadle

    ACLU Bill of Rights Gala to Honor Don Cheadle, Feature Appearances by Selena Gomez, Regina Hall

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California will honor “Avengers: Endgame” and “Black Monday” star Don Cheadle at the organization’s annual Bill of Rights dinner on Nov. 17 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Cheadle will be recognized for his activist work as an advocate for racial and gender equality, immigration reform, reproductive and LGBTQ [...]

  • Helen Mirren attends the LA Premiere

    Why Helen Mirren Considers Catherine the Great to Be 'Superhuman'

    It’s no secret that Dame Helen Mirren has a knack for nailing regal roles. Following her Oscar-winning on-screen reign as Queen Elizabeth II back in 2006, the thespian brings yet another powerful ruler to life in HBO’s limited mini-series “Catherine the Great.” Just as she does on the small screen as Russian Empress Catherine II, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content