Looking Back at 2010s Films: Winter’s Bone (2010)

20 Nov

By Tanner Smith

I remember attending the 2010 Little Rock Film Festival. I was almost 18 years old and I had just received a scholarship from the festival awards gala. There, I heard about an indie film set in the Ozarks called “Winter’s Bone.” It was the festival selection everyone was talking about. It received the highest award in the festival–the Golden Rock Narrative award. I met one of the film’s actresses, Shelley Waggener, who told me and my family how proud she was of how far the film has come so far. And so, I thought, this must be a hell of a film! So I look it up–it was a smash at Sundance, it’s been getting a ton of critical praise, and my favorite film critic, Roger Ebert, had just rated it 4 stars out of 4! That was when I knew I had to see this film.

Oh, and of course, one of the questions on my mind was, “Who’s Jennifer Lawrence?”

“Winter’s Bone” got a limited theatrical release soon after, but it wouldn’t come near my hometown in Northeast Arkansas. So I had to wait a few more months for it to hit DVD before I could check it out. And it didn’t disappoint. It was a gripping, compelling dramatic thriller with one of the most heroic cinematic protagonists of the decade: Ree Dolly (played by Lawrence), a 17-year-old Ozark Mountain girl who has to take it upon herself to find her father in order to save her family home. You see, her father, a meth manufacturer, has jumped bail–and if he doesn’t appear for his court date, Ree, her mentally ill mother, and her two younger siblings will lose the house because it was put up as part of his bond. Ree has been looking after her mother and brother and sister for a long time, and this is now her biggest challenge to make sure they all stay in her care for a while longer.

Ree doesn’t even flinch when she’s told the news that she has only a short time to think of a plan to stay–she simply says, “I’ll find him.” And that’s what she sets out to do. She starts with her meth-addicted uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), who warns her not to go after his brother because trouble will come of it. Then, she tries some distant kin, who are some of the most paranoid asses you’ll find in a movie–they make the meth cookers in “Breaking Bad” (name your pick) look like the most relaxed people in the world.

Ree digs herself deeper and deeper to find her father or find out what happened to him, and the less answers she receives, the more determined she is to take more risks. She even gets the stuffing knocked out of her in one gruesome scene when the family, including the local crime boss Thump Milton (or, as I like to call him, Tiny D*ck), tries to decide what to do with her since she’s asked too many questions and won’t stop. Kill her? Maybe. Anything else. “Help me,” she said. “Ain’t no one’s had that idea, have they?”

The higher the stakes are for Ree and her family, the more I want to see Ree succeed in her quest. And she couldn’t have been played by a better actress. This was Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout performance, and it led to numerous accolades (including an Oscar nomination–only her first), which as we all know led to a very successful career. And she’s excellent here, aided by a top-notch director, Debra Granik, who gave Vera Farmiga her time to shine in 2006’s “Down to the Bone” and later introduced us to Thomasin McKenzie in “Leave No Trace”–I’d say Granik has a knack for finding new female talent.

Also, I gotta talk about how impressive John Hawkes is in this role. After seeing him in other movies like “The Sessions” (and then being astounded that he was in “From Dusk Till Dawn,” which I had seen many times before “Winter’s Bone”), it’s like his performance in “Winter’s Bone” is from someone completely different. He is a damn good actor. And his character has a great arc as well. He starts off as super serious and kind of fearsome, almost like he’s meant to be the story’s antagonist. Then he loosens up and decides to step in and help Ree, leading to an interesting father-daughter type of relationship that it’s obvious Ree hasn’t experienced.

Also, there’s a theory I read that Teardrop killed his brother and that’s why he felt the need to step in and help Ree find him out of guilt. At first, I thought there was something to that theory, but then I thought, I don’t think the people who helped Ree with the body’s remains would have let the night pass without letting that little detail slip.

“Winter’s Bone” is a gritty, atmospheric and altogether terrifically made film. I loved it 9 years ago when I first saw it, and I still love it today.

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Winter’s Bone (2010)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] “Cop Car,” “Buried,” “Drive,” “Lean on Pete,” “Winter’s Bone,” “Wildlife,” “Blue Ruin,” “Two Step,” “Come […]

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