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Thread: WINTER'S BONE (Debra Granik 2010)

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    WINTER'S BONE (Debra Granik 2010)

    [ Winter's Bone opened in the San Francisco Bay Area and some other locations including NYC today, June 11, 2010. In his NY Times review today A.O. Scott wrote, "In Ms. Lawrence’s watchful, precise and quietly heroic performance, Ree is like a modern-day Antigone, making ethical demands that are at once entirely coherent and potentially fatal." He says "something primal, almost Greek in its archaic power, is at stake in Winter's Bone." he consludes of the film that "its setting is finally subordinate to the main character, as memorable and vivid a heroine as you are likely to see on screen this season." He calls Winter's Bone "straightforward and suspenseful but also surprising and subtle." The METACRITIC rating of 87 indicates, and I'd argue, that this is one to look for and is likely to rank high among the year's American films. This review originally ran in the Filmleaf 2010 SFIFF Festival Coverage thread. ]


    JENNIFER LAWRENCE IN Debra Granik's WINTER'S BONE

    Debra Granik: WINTER'S BONE

    In search of a wayward father

    Review by Chris Knipp

    Granik's similarly titled first film Down to the Bone, made in 2004 (when it won a Sundance directing award) but shown in New York in 2005, was an intriguingly gritty and gray story about a woman, her men, and her drug addiction and recovery. Drugs figure again this time but the scene moves from Upstate New York to the Missouri Ozarks and the focus, in this second feature based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, now is on a 17-year-girl whose father, like many in the area, cooks up speed. Fresh-faced and clean living, Ree needs not rehab but the secret of her wayward father's whereabouts. He's gotten released on bail, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), the girl, learns from the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt), and he put up their homestead to do so. If he doesn't show up for his trial, the property will be forfeited to a bail bond company and Ree and the little family she alone cares for, her near-catatonic mother and her younger brother and sister, will have no place to live.

    What follows is an exploration of the surroundings, a motley landscape of junk heaps and shacks where people live or make drugs. Winter's Bone is marked by rich local atmosphere and flavorful characters who blend into it. Granik again shows skill with her actors and gets kids to be disarmingly and delightfully real.

    Ree is like a private investigator now in some Ozark film noir, except though she has a couple of shotguns she gives her young siblings "survival training" on using, she can't even borrow a car and must trudge around the hills on foot, and getting scant results from asking questions. A kind of omerà prevails among these sinister descendants of moonshiners who've switched to meth. Everybody knows everybody else, but nobody's very trusting. Even Ree's uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) tells Ree to get lost and forget her quest, and others she queries are successively more and more hostile and threatening. Merab (Dale Dickey), a gnarly gatekeeper for some uncooperative relatives, goes beyond threatening and eventually resorts to violence against Ree. Like many a noir detective before her, Ree winds up with a bloody face.

    Eventually things get worked out through a grisly revelation, and both Teardrop and Merab turn out to be friendlier than they had seemed.

    Winter's Bones is rooted in a fascinating and believable world, which it absorbs us into without calling attention to itself; ideally we forget we're even watching a movie. Its action and milieu resemble those of another Sundance winner, Frozen River, but this is more convincing and less preachy. It also reminds one of Lance Hammer's Mississippi family tale Ballast -- but the shift is from southern blacks to southern whites. Winter's Bone may owe something to the films of David Gordon Green, but it's less self-conscious or willfully idiosyncratic. Granik has a way of keeping things simple. You come away with a strong impression of place, and of the protagonist. The focus in on the closely linked and close-lipped locals, their faces and clothes and pungent language of a piece with their hardscrabble living quarters, and on young Ree's simple courage and determination. Jennifer Lawrence has given us a new kind of heroine, her works and actions flowing from her as naturally as a Blue Grass song -- and there is one sung at a party right in the middle of the film. Her hopefulness and youthful energy keep the film, despite its milieu of poverty and meanness, from ever falling into the kind of miserablism that hovers over Frozen River.

    On the big screen, the film looks rich and beautiful. Even though cinematographer Michael McDonough largely adheres to a generally low-keyed palate, in the sunlight warm colors bloom in the children's faces and Ree's blond hair.

    This is a winner, and one hopes it will get better distribution and hence a bigger audience than Granik's first film. Recipient of Sundance's Grand Jury prize as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010 -- where it won the Audience Award. It is to have a June 11, 2010 US theatrical release from Roadside Attractions.

    Winter's Bone is having one of those elaborate rolling-out releases. Here is the release schedule state by state. It will come to a lot of cities and towns in 29 states in June and July.

    Official US Trailer.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-02-2018 at 03:39 PM.

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    My review

    THE WINTER’S BONE

    Directed by Debra Granik, U.S., (2010), 100 minutes

    It is quite astonishing what people are capable of when their survival or way of life is threatened. In those moments, they are somehow able to employ a level of courage, perseverance, and high intention that they never knew they had. Such is the case for young Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) in Debra Granik’s The Winter’s Bone, winner of the Jury Prize for dramatic competition as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Newcomer Lawrence, a Kentucky native, is completely convincing as the 17-year-old Ree who has endured much in her brief lifetime and has plenty of obstacles yet to overcome. Living in poverty in a small house in the rural Missouri Ozarks, near the Arkansas border, she has to cook, chop wood and do whatever is necessary to care for her twelve-year old brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and her six-year old sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) as well as look after her mother who is catatonic.

    Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell and co-written by Granik and Anne Rosellini, The Winter’s Bone depicts how young Ree’s life is changed when the local sheriff informs her that her dad, Jessup, on the run after being arrested for “cooking” methamphetamines, has put the family’s house up as bond and that, unless he is found and convinced to turn himself in, Ree’s family will lose their house. Insisting to the sheriff that she will find him, the young girl begins a search among friends, family members, distant relatives, and the community of small-time crooks, dope dealers, and kingpins that dominate the male-dominated rural society. No one wants to talk and Ree is met with silence, hostility, and even violence. One neighbor tells her that her questioning is, “a real good way to end up et by hogs.” When someone asks her, "Ain't you got no men folk to do this?" the answer is an emphatic “no.” (at times, the film seems to be challenging Juno for the most quirky one-liners).

    Ree’s main antagonists are her father’s terrifying older brother Teardrop, played by John Hawkes, and Merab (Dale Dickey), the wife of Thump Milton, one of the local bosses. The performance by Dickey conveys an overbearing sense of intimidation that is both real and frightening. As Ree navigates through this hostile environment, we grow to admire her determination and her willingness to confront danger in order to protect her siblings. Winter’s Bone is a film about poverty and desperation but it never exploits its characters or engages in manipulation or sentimentality. Though it can be hard to watch at times, it is not as some critics have said “poverty porn.” There are lighter moments as well that include authentic Ozark folk music sung by Marideth Sisco and scenes of Ree teaching her brother and sister to spell, count, and perhaps more important for survival, how to shoot a rifle. She also tells her younger brother about the culture in which they live saying "Never ask for what ought to be offered."

    Though I was riveted by the unfolding story, perhaps because of the film’s high degree of stylization, I stopped short of full emotional involvement and was often conscious of the fact that I was watching a movie. Yet The Winter’s Bone is a rich, satisfying film that more than deserves the accolades it has been receiving. Though it is stylized, it has an authenticity derived from using local residents as actors and from the director having immersed herself in the culture for two years before shooting the film. Jennifer Lawrence conveys a stoic and hard-edged individual, yet one with integrity who has somehow avoided getting sucked into the soul destructive way of life that seems to be endemic to the area. In Ree, Granik has created one of the strongest female characters in cinema in memory, one who, by her sheer will, suggests what could be accomplished if all of us could live each day as if our life depended on it.

    GRADE: A-
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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    Fine review, enriched by your sympathy and understanding of the protagonist and your attentive ear to the language and eye for the landscapes, the more impressive because you feel a certain distance from the proceedings.. I would not have thought of Juno but will think of that on another viewing. Perhaps a reason for your sense of distance is that the world of the film is made to feel intentionally strange and remote, and also in a way epic. The "film noir" element claimed by festival blurbs may be really a stretch, but it's there to an extent and adds to a certain stylishness and romance, that again avoids cliché. I'm glad this film is getting so much attention. It's a leap forward for Granik both artistically and commercially from her promising DOWN TO THE BONE and lets hope the success permits her to make still further leaps forward.

    Your point that this is not "poverty porn" is essential. I felt uncomfortable with something like "poverty porn" in FROZEN RIVER but not at all here. "Winter’s Bone is a film about poverty and desperation but it never exploits its characters or engages in manipulation or sentimentality." Right. This may be your most important paragraph in an admirably nuanced and detailed review. You've been away a bit; you've come back better than ever.

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    Thanks

    Thank you so much. I wanted to do justice to this fine film and am happy to hear that I may have succeeded. It gives me the impetus to keep truckin' on.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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    Don't ever stop.

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    I'm glad I watched it in a theater, just two days from the end of its theatrical run here. Clearly one of the best reviewed films of the year for many reasons you both express quite eloquently. And yet, I personally felt that a couple of times (certainly the grisly scene at the conclusion but also the gang-beating of Ree) when Granik slides into excess and overstatement that run counter to the film's otherwise pervasive honesty and authenticity. I was also annoyed by my inability to understand some dialogue lines as a result of character's mumbled delivery and mediocre post-production. A minor peeve, this last one.

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    Yes, it is good on a big screen.
    There have been some complaints about the dialogue and I had some trouble myself. Granik has said it is very close to the Daniel Woodrell novel, which was so faithfully followed copies of it were given out in the local community. If it is to be rich and inventive, the talk has to be a bit hard to follow. When you're in a place like the rural Ozarks, you're going to miss some of what people are saying. As for violence, one would expect that in an environment of meth producers. I would not think excess and overstatement were weaknesses of WINTER'S BONE. I would say that its greatest weakness is that midway it is a bit hard to follow at times, and that it is so into itself it loses out on the chance of having a bit more mainstream accessibility. I don't know about weaknesses of post production but the audio was not as brilliant as the "meticulous natural sound" (my words) in Lance Hammer's BALLAST.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-10-2010 at 10:40 PM.

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    Living in Miami I get a chance to meet and befriend many foreigners, mostly Europeans and South Americans. One thing I've learned is that foreigners' general concept of American cinema comprises only Hollywood. It's very narrow and does not include films like Ballast, which was not released abroad, and Winter's Bone, which is lucky to get a week each in London and Paris before going underground, so to speak. This notion of American cinema today is even held by people "in the business". I spoke with the great Belgian director Chantal Akerman on campus last year and the anti-American bias when it comes to evaluating our cinema was clearly evident. Even Film Studies majors (female students from Turkey, India and China in this case) simply equate American cinema with big-budget Hollywood because that is all they see. I would love to teach a course in modern American Cinema at a foreign university and show films like these. Perhaps someday...

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    The Setting and Style Clashes with the Story Telling Drama

    If this movie had been a documentary, I'd be the first in line to praise this movie. However, it is the very experience of the authenticity and the richness of the setting and background that seem to intrude into the foreground of this movie and interfere in a distracting way with the story and brilliant performances themselves. For me, I take Schumann's mild criticism "Though I was riveted by the unfolding story, perhaps because of the film’s high degree of stylization, I stopped short of full emotional involvement and was often conscious of the fact that I was watching a movie," and state that the "film's high degree of stylization" oftentimes betrayed the authenticity of the real Ozarks, revealing the possible lie behind the visceral experience of the documentary-like cinematography and distancing the audience of the "full emotional involvement" that a great movie must accomplish and achieve as a classical work of art.

    On two other points, (1) the difficulty in understanding the dialogue shouldn't be considered a negative in that in real life such difficulties are pervasive and that if one can understand the major concepts and plot, then to sacrifice authenticity in the context of clearer dialogue isn't sufficient reason to reduce this movie to the more common denominator (there are always subtitles), and (2) to believe that it is the males who dominate in this movie, oftentimes there is the deeper, unseen context where the females are the real foundation and connective tissue of this culture, and this is particularly true of this movie.

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    I liked your points at the end, especially about the language, tabuno. I do not think that a movie that's hard to get into is therefore not involving or real-seeming. I don't exactly find this film has a "high degree of stylization" as Howard says. Anyway, whether this is one's most involving or moving movie-going experience of the year or not, and it may very well not be, it's still a fine film, the best American independent regional film of the year by a good margin. It is somewhat comparable to Lance Hammer's BALLAST, which I saw at the 2008 SFIFF as I saw WINTER'S BONE at the 2010 one. The screening of WINTER'S BONE at the festival was a festive occasion, partly a celebration of the emergence of Jennifer Laurence as a new star on the horizon. But maybe I should just reprint my SFIFF review here:


    Debra Granik: Winter's Bone (2010)
    Review by Chris Knipp (originally on the SFIFF 2010 thread)


    JENNIFER LAWRENCE IN WINTER'S BONE

    In search of a wayward father

    Granik's similarly titled first film Down to the Bone, made in 2004 (when it won a Sundance directing award) but shown in New York in 2005, was an intriguingly gritty and gray story about a woman, her men, and her drug addiction and recovery. Drugs figure again this time but the scene moves from Upstate New York to the Missouri Ozarks and the focus, in this second feature based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, now is on a 17-year-girl whose father, like many in the area, cooks up speed. Fresh-faced and clean living, Ree needs not rehab but the secret of her wayward father's whereabouts. He's gotten released on bail, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), the girl, learns from the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt), and he put up their homestead to do so. If he doesn't show up for his trial, the property will be forfeited to a bail bond company and Ree and the little family she alone cares for, her near-catatonic mother and her younger brother and sister, will have no place to live.

    What follows is an exploration of the surroundings, a motley landscape of junk heaps and shacks where people live or make drugs. Winter's Bone is marked by rich local atmosphere and flavorful characters who blend into it. Granik again shows skill with her actors and gets kids to be disarmingly and delightfully real.

    Ree is like a private investigator now in some Ozark film noir, except though she has a couple of shotguns she gives her young siblings "survival training" on using, she can't even borrow a car and must trudge around the hills on foot, and getting scant results from asking questions. A kind of omerà prevails among these sinister descendants of moonshiners who've switched to meth. Everybody knows everybody else, but nobody's very trusting. Even Ree's uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) tells Ree to get lost and forget her quest, and others she queries are successively more and more hostile and threatening. Merab (Dale Dickey), a gnarly gatekeeper for some uncooperative relatives, goes beyond threatening and eventually resorts to violence against Ree. Like many a noir detective before her, Ree winds up with a bloody face.

    Eventually things get worked out through a grisly revelation, and both Teardrop and Merab turn out to be friendlier than they had seemed.

    Winter's Bones is rooted in a fascinating and believable world, which it absorbs us into without calling attention to itself; ideally we forget we're even watching a movie. Its action and milieu resemble those of another Sundance winner, Frozen River, but this is more convincing and less preachy. It also reminds one of Lance Hammer's Mississippi family tale Ballast -- but the shift is from southern blacks to southern whites. Winter's Bone may owe something to the films of David Gordon Green, but it's less self-conscious or willfully idiosyncratic. Granik has a way of keeping things simple. You come away with a strong impression of place, and of the protagonist. The focus in on the closely linked and close lipped locals, their faces and clothes and pungent language of a piece with their hardscrabble living quarters, and on young Ree's simple courage and determination. Jennifer Lawrence has given us a new kind of heroine, her works and actions flowing from her as naturally as a Blue Grass song -- and there is one sung at a party right in the middle of the film. Her hopefulness and youthful energy keep the film, despite its milieu of poverty and meanness, from ever falling into the kind of miserablism that hovers over Frozen River.

    On the big screen, the film looks rich and beautiful. Even though cinematographer Michael McDonough largely adheres to a generally low-keyed palate, in the sunlight warm colors bloom in the children's faces and Ree's blond hair.

    This is a winner, and one hopes it will get better distribution and hence a bigger audience than Granik's first film. It is to have a June 2010 release through Roadside Attractions.

    Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010. Winner of Sundance's Grand Jury prize as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. It won the Audience Award at SFIFF.

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    I liked your points at the end, especially about the language, tabuno. I do not think that a movie that's hard to get into is therefore not involving or real-seeming. I don't exactly find this film has a "high degree of stylization" as Howard says. Anyway, whether this is one's most involving or moving movie-going experience of the year or not, and it may very well not be, it's still a fine film, the best American independent regional film of the year by a good margin. It is somewhat comparable to Lance Hammer's BALLAST, which I saw at the 2008 SFIFF as I saw WINTER'S BONE at the 2010 one. The screening of WINTER'S BONE at the festival was a festive occasion, partly a celebration of the emergence of Jennifer Laurence as a new star on the horizon. But maybe I should just reprint my SFIFF review here:


    Debra Granik: Winter's Bone (2010)
    Review by Chris Knipp
    (originally on the SFIFF 2010 thread here)


    JENNIFER LAWRENCE IN WINTER'S BONE

    In search of a wayward father

    Granik's similarly titled first film Down to the Bone, made in 2004 (when it won a Sundance directing award) but shown in New York in 2005, was an intriguingly gritty and gray story about a woman, her men, and her drug addiction and recovery. Drugs figure again this time but the scene moves from Upstate New York to the Missouri Ozarks and the focus, in this second feature based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, now is on a 17-year-girl whose father, like many in the area, cooks up speed. Fresh-faced and clean living, Ree needs not rehab but the secret of her wayward father's whereabouts. He's gotten released on bail, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), the girl, learns from the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt), and he put up their homestead to do so. If he doesn't show up for his trial, the property will be forfeited to a bail bond company and Ree and the little family she alone cares for, her near-catatonic mother and her younger brother and sister, will have no place to live.

    What follows is an exploration of the surroundings, a motley landscape of junk heaps and shacks where people live or make drugs. Winter's Bone is marked by rich local atmosphere and flavorful characters who blend into it. Granik again shows skill with her actors and gets kids to be disarmingly and delightfully real.

    Ree is like a private investigator now in some Ozark film noir, except though she has a couple of shotguns she gives her young siblings "survival training" on using, she can't even borrow a car and must trudge around the hills on foot, and getting scant results from asking questions. A kind of omerà prevails among these sinister descendants of moonshiners who've switched to meth. Everybody knows everybody else, but nobody's very trusting. Even Ree's uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) tells Ree to get lost and forget her quest, and others she queries are successively more and more hostile and threatening. Merab (Dale Dickey), a gnarly gatekeeper for some uncooperative relatives, goes beyond threatening and eventually resorts to violence against Ree. Like many a noir detective before her, Ree winds up with a bloody face.

    Eventually things get worked out through a grisly revelation, and both Teardrop and Merab turn out to be friendlier than they had seemed.

    Winter's Bones is rooted in a fascinating and believable world, which it absorbs us into without calling attention to itself; ideally we forget we're even watching a movie. Its action and milieu resemble those of another Sundance winner, Frozen River, but this is more convincing and less preachy. It also reminds one of Lance Hammer's Mississippi family tale Ballast -- but the shift is from southern blacks to southern whites. Winter's Bone may owe something to the films of David Gordon Green, but it's less self-conscious or willfully idiosyncratic. Granik has a way of keeping things simple. You come away with a strong impression of place, and of the protagonist. The focus in on the closely linked and close lipped locals, their faces and clothes and pungent language of a piece with their hardscrabble living quarters, and on young Ree's simple courage and determination. Jennifer Lawrence has given us a new kind of heroine, her works and actions flowing from her as naturally as a Blue Grass song -- and there is one sung at a party right in the middle of the film. Her hopefulness and youthful energy keep the film, despite its milieu of poverty and meanness, from ever falling into the kind of miserablism that hovers over Frozen River.

    On the big screen, the film looks rich and beautiful. Even though cinematographer Michael McDonough largely adheres to a generally low-keyed palate, in the sunlight warm colors bloom in the children's faces and Ree's blond hair.

    This is a winner, and one hopes it will get better distribution and hence a bigger audience than Granik's first film. It is to have a June 2010 release through Roadside Attractions.

    Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2010. Winner of Sundance's Grand Jury prize as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. It won the Audience Award at SFIFF.

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    The Irony of Performance and Setting

    The balance between setting and performance is delicate to be sure and the setting can reward the actor with a bountiful of character immersion into a real environment as director Ridley Scott had the even more difficult accomplishment in creating a fictional but richly, densely, layered set design throughout BLADERUNNER (1982). Jennifer Lawrence, deservedly received a best actress Oscar nomination for her performance in WINTER'S BONE. Nevertheless, the style of this movie, for me, was the directorial decision to incorporate so much of the authenticity and physical and cultural character into the movie that became so authentic that the backdrop became the foreground and it was the culture, the mind thought, the language, and the entire perhaps even stereotypical perception of the audience that drove the movie instead of the plot and story itself. Muich like THE HURT LOCKER (2008) the cinematography became so rich depicting a documentary-like portrait that the incumbent necessity for realism and the benchmark to adhere to such realism was the movie's downfall because of the many dramatic licenses taken from fiction in the movie. On the other hand, WINTER'S BONE has the same high standards for authenticity given its authentic presentation and character performances, that were better balanced between drama and fictional storyline and significantly not as inconsistent as in THE HURT LOCKER. Yet the discontinuity still persists even in this movie so as to block the "full emotional involvement" with the movie.

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    It seems a bit odd to refer to the picuture's "downfall" when it got nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. The Academy has recognized he excellence of this film as they rarely have for a flavorful Amerindie film. This is the product of varous trends and also of the new 10-picture nomination system instead of 5. Your comparison with THE HURT LOCKEER is interestiing. I'd say that in the latter the characters are more central, simpler, more in your face. Authenticity of atmosphere can tend to overwhelm a film. I would not push WINTER'S BONE as the year's best picture, but I'm glad it got included in the list.

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    Yes and Yes

    I strongly agree with you that THE HURT LOCKER'S character were much more two-dimensional and simple whereas those in WINTER'S BONE had depth and authenticity with a wide range of emotions and character behaviors under varying circumstances as recognized by the Academy Award performance nominations for this movie.

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