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Winter’s Bone


Academy praise can truly make or break a film. The reputation a movie gets from Academy recognition in the form of nominations immediately bolsters the film’s popularity and box office draw. Winter’s Bone seems to have benefited greatly from the Oscar buzz it received in 2010 despite a slow pace and limited progression.

Grade:

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is a seventeen-year-old deprived of her childhood due to a meth-cooking father and mother who mentally checked out. Since her father is constantly in and out of the house, Ree takes care of her mother and two younger siblings. It’s a tough yet stable life until she is informed that her father offered their home and belongings to cover the cost of his bail bond. She is given a week to find her father – or prove his death – to save her home and keep her family alive. Problem is, her neighbors – many of which are relatives – are unwilling to help her search.

I will openly admit that I had to read a few reviews – in favor and against – to get a good idea of Bone’s impact on its viewers and what prompted a Best Picture nomination. There is no doubting the raw, unflinching realism of the film and its portrayal of poverty and drugs in the Ozarks. Ree and her family (clan) have to be guarded due to their precarious financial and legal situations. Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job portraying the hardened Ree, while still showing her vulnerability at such a young age. These aspects, along with a layered, intense performance by John Hawkes as Ree’s uncle Teardrop, are clearly the reasons for Bone’s Oscar nominations and buzz.

While the framework and social implications of the film are all as solid as can be, the actual film does not play out with the same height of interest. The layout is similar to Dennis Lehane inspired films, like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, but Bone lacks a similar tension or appeal. Ree has to use street senses over smarts in order to gain any information. Too bad she doesn’t ascertain anything useful for three-quarters of the film. Once we learn something, we still aren’t given much. Each house she visits contains a new interesting character, but the results end up the same with versions of “you best be on your way” being thrown in her face – along with hot liquid and backs of hands. The relationships between characters are also quite ambiguous. We are given small hints throughout that we are forced to interpret, which causes a gap between your understanding of the story and the events occurring as you are left playing catch-up while Ree is still running around. We are left with an incredibly slow movie ripe with largely unfulfilled tension and intensity, barring one, maybe two scenes.

For Hunger Games fans, Winter’s Bone is an excellent precursor to what Lawrence’s version of Katniss will be. Ree has almost identical qualities to Katniss minus the love interests. Bone uses these survival skills in a real setting that people live through each and every day. Critics all around have hailed Winter’s Bone for the stark realism and stunning insight into rural Southern poverty. Unfortunately, sometimes reality can be somewhat boring.

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