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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Winter's Bone'

August 11, 2010 |  4:15 pm

Winters Bone

In summer, it’s easy to overlook the small indie films when a raft of new movies float into theaters each Friday, so you may have missed “Winter’s Bone,” a very un-summery sounding film. But please catch it before it slips away.

This finely wrought drama about a teenager’s fight to take care of her family in the drug-infected, poverty-saturated Ozark mountain back country is sure to be an Oscar contender. It all begins when 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) learns that the father, who is never around, has used the shack they call home to cover the bail he's now jumped. 

And so begins this unsettling journey into a reality that you want to think no longer exists. The teenager who's had to grow up too fast, the mother too depressed to function, a younger brother and sister who  need to be raised, and no money ever. That Ree Dolly looks weary from the first frame is no surprise.

But it's also a story of the kind of grit, independent spirit and unwillingness to give in to whatever hardships are thrown at you that speaks to the sort of country we still want the U.S. to be. Director Debra Granik has captured the beauty and the pain of the region, and with co-screenwriter Anne Rosellini, the heart of Daniel Woodrell's novel, on which the film is based.

The casting is genius, with faces so raw they look newly plucked out of those hills, and the performances are across-the-board excellent. Lawrence’s turn as Ree Dolly is especially breathtaking, and heartbreaking; John Hawkes as her uncle, Teardrop, is fearsome, as is the deadly crystal meth culture,  and the making and dealing and dying that come along with it.

"Winter's Bone" an extraordinary slice of a darker Americana. No apple pie here.

Just as I was filing this post, I got an e-mail from MovieReviewIntelligence.com editor David Gross with a rundown on how hot this summer has been for indie films like "Winter's Bone." An excerpt from his email below (And thanks, David):

This has been on my radar for over a month and it's looking quite clear now.... The specialized/indie/art house market is having a very good summer, considerably better than last year.  Last year there was a lot of talk about the death of small movies.  Lately they are showing vibrancy. 

A better collection of movies this year?  There is no doubt these are among the best reviewed movies in release.  The word about each movie is moving so much faster now -- word-of-mouth, as well as reviews -- in large part because of social media.  Good for moviegoers, good for movies, good for critics.

Kids Are All Right -- $14 million (still in release, should cross $20+ million), 91.7% positive reviews
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- $12.2 million, 74.4%
Cyrus -- $7.1 million (still in release), 75.9%  
City Island -- $6.7 million, 63.7%
Secret in Their Eyes -- $6.3 million (still in release), 82.4%
Winter's Bone -- $4.5 million (still in release), 90.8%
Solitary Man -- $4.2 million (still in release), 71.5%
Please Give -- $3.9 million (still in release), 82.5%
I Am Love -- $3.9 million (still in release), 77.1%
Girl Who Played with Fire -- $3.2 million, 64.7%
Exit Through the Gift Shop -- $3.1 million, 82.6%
Joan Rivers -- $2.5 million (still in release), 79.8%

– Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles TImes film critic

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from "Winter's Bone." Credit: Sebastian Mlynarski/Roadside Attractions

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Totally agree! If anyone wants to check out stills and clips from Winter's Bone, head on over to: http://epx.ms/beXuLK

Great Movie!! I was raised in the Missouri Ozarks area where the film was set and filmed. This is the part of the US that loves Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh (who is from Missouri) and voted for GW Bush twice. I have to say that the film was amazingly "true to life" in every detail. I would also like to say that you don't have to be desperately hungry to hunt and eat squirrels either. It is considered very good food in the hills. I have eaten it many times and it is delicious when cooked correctly.

I have been dismayed reading many of these reviews calling it a "fake" and/or "phony" and contrived film. I do understand that the character of Ree Dolly certainly has many wonderful and admirable qualities that seem to have developed in a vacuum. Ree Dolly needs to be that sort of character for the rest of the film to work and not simply be a documentary of the endless poverty endured in the Ozarks for generation after generation. I grew up EXACTLY in that part of Missouri and Ree's character aside, it is EXACTLY correct in the look, the language and the behaviors there.

I would also like to address the meth epidemic that has raced across huge sections of the rural Midwest America. I was raised in the Ozarks from 1963 until 2009 and I watched the moonshiners lose out as Sunday Blue Laws and Dry County Laws were voted down or abandoned. Then marijuana became THE big cash crop that survived and thrived for many years until "Daddy" Bush's anti-marihuana laws poured in tons of money to local law enforcement and new laws confiscating lands forced the richer growers indoors. It was finally in the mid 1990s when you began to see meth force out ALL the remaining marihuana farmers and moonshiners. Counties began to get in meth dealing Sheriffs and the old games were OVER. In my Ozark County (Morgan) during the late 1990s a deputy sheriff's home mysteriously exploded and then was investigated by the FBI. I watched as the marijuana became hard to find and evil meth take over.

The people of the Ozarks have always been clannish, hostile to outsiders and proudfully ignorant and primitive in their opinions of society and politics. Those traits are nothing new or something that manifested due to meth. But the introduction of meth has struck down many good men and women who might have made the culture a tiny bit more tolerant or hopeful.

But along with the continuing devastation of multi generational poverty and vastly inferior schools there is also a great beauty in the land and the people of the region that you can see in a short movie shot in the Ozarks at;

or my longer version at:


Many an unbelievably gifted musician lived and died in those hills never having recognition from anyone outside of the hills.

I strongly urge everyone to watch this movie because it is VERY
truthful and realistic of how parts of the US survive. It also shows a part of America that is VERY often overlooked because many are (rightfully) ashamed that this sort of 3rd world poverty exits in the US. I personally feel that the Federal US government needs to inject a LOT more funding and OVERSITE of the rural school districts in order to overcome the generations of prideful ignorance that governs the mindset of many born into that rural America culture.


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