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MOVIE REVIEW: Winter’s Bone

Dark, but authentic look at a tough life

Winter's Bone: Rates a B-.
Courtesy photo

Winter’s Bone certainly isn’t the feel-good movie of the year. Well, unless you just recently lost your home and want to feel better knowing you don’t live in the Ozark Mountains.

Writer/director Debra Granik gave us Down to the Bone a few years ago. It’s another bone movie, and one that is on the top of many lists as the best of the year. You’ll surely be seeing it pop up around Oscar time.

Sometimes people joke that if you played a mentally challenged person or a drunk on film, you get an automatic nomination. Well, when the sloppy (but good) Precious got a bunch of nominations last year, and Frozen River (which this reminds me a lot of) -- it makes me wonder if poverty on film is the thing now that gets you noticed during Oscar season.

The premise of this film is that a teenager, played wonderfully by Jennifer Lawrence, is hunting through forests and lowlifes, in search of her dad who skipped bail. He sold meth (which I’m guessing would’ve been

moonshine 40 years ago), and put his house up for bail. Now that he’s gone, the family is on the verge of losing their home.

Lawrence takes care of the two younger siblings, as well as a sick mom who never talks, although we aren’t clear as to why. You love the fact that she’s so good with her clan, and when she does have to step things up to get answers from the locals in town, it all seems realistic. There was a time I thought she’d steal a gun sitting on a table. She didn’t. Another time I thought she’d steal a truck after asking to borrow it. She didn’t. And there’s something enjoyable about rooting for a character that can be tough, that isn’t doing the James Bond/Jason Bourne type of tough, but is someone that not only doesn’t have all those gadgets, but not a single one to work with.

Everything the movie did had an authentic feel, and it didn’t do anything wrong. That’s a high compliment for a backwoods noir picture that could’ve gone off track very easily.

Aside from the great acting performances, there’s some vivid cinematography that makes the landscape a thing of melancholy beauty.

The intimidating guys aren’t 6-foot-5, muscular, with scarred up faces. They have grizzly grey beards, but are scary based on attitude (and the mystery involved of not knowing what their agenda is).

At one point I was wondering if these were all actors or just locals that were hired. It looked like they got Lynyrd Skynyrd and Metallica band members as extras. It wasn’t the stereotypical clichéd look of overalls, missing teeth, and strumming banjos. Well okay, banjos do appear a few times, but I digress.

A few things bugged me about this movie.

I don’t need explanations for every character that pops up on screen, but with the slow pacing of this film, I had nothing better to do than wonder about them and what they did. The head honcho of the bad guys is shown at a cattle auction, and everyone knows to avoid him. Yet you never learn anything about him.

There’s a sheriff that’s up to something, but we never have that situation resolved.

I was a little confused by all the creeps Lawrence runs into, being related to her. It made sense the first few times, because those are the people she assumes will provide answers. After the fifth person, when she barks something about them having “some of the same blood,” you start to wonder.

A lot of lines in this were great, and very memorable: “That’s a real good way to end up bit by hogs, or wishin’ you was.”

“I already told you to shut up with my mouth.”

“Talkin’ just causes witnesses.”

At some point though, you wonder if these backwoods yokels would be this clever; or you realize it’s really just a clever screenwriter, maybe being a bit too clever.

There’s a few gross scenes involving squirrels that’ll probably irk the PETA crowd. I thought about how Sean Penn shoots rodents for sport in Sweet and Lowdown. Here it’s a combination of learning how to use a rifle as well as putting dinner on the table.

I noticed there was an actress in this named Dale Dickey, and I couldn’t help wonder if she was related to James Dickey, who wrote and had a part in Deliverance. With her range of emotions, it reminded me of the Oscar nominated performance by Melissa Leo in Frozen River. I just had a few questions about that characters change of heart.

There’s a scene near the end that involve a river that evoke an eerie feeling very well. Another scene involving a chainsaw you’ll probably never forget.

An elderly couple was leaving the theatre in front of me and the man said “What didn’t you like about it?” She looked at him shocked and replied, “A better question is…what did you like about it?”

Winter’s Bone is a very well-made picture that is dark and will be hard for many people to take; I felt it was a little slow and not as good as I expected.

I’m giving it a B-.

(To watch Josh Board and comedian Mal Hall review this movie, CLICK HERE.)