SXSW FILM 2010
By Dave Campbell | March 22, 2010
Director: Debra Granik
Writers: Daniel Woodrell (novel) Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini (screenplay)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey
In the bleak and bitter setting of the Southern Missouri Ozark winter, we meet 17 year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) as she struggles to care for her family. Ree is the eldest of three siblings and must do what she can to feed and dress her little brother and sister who are both under the age of 10. All responsibility is placed on Ree’s shoulders due to a mother that is mentally incapacitated and a father who is caught up in the world of meth.
After a visit from the local Sheriff, Ree learns that her father was recently arrested and put their house up for his bail bond. Ree must uncover the truth of her father’s whereabouts to save the house from being taken away. Ree decides to take on even more hardship by setting out to track down her father. The path grows even darker for Ree as she crosses unspoken boundaries of the extended Dolly family. With the help of her best friend Gail, and her father’s brother, Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), Ree presses on facing the dangerous demons of her shady family by breaking the silence of their criminal shroud and the truth about her father.
Winter’s Bone is is the film adaptation of the 2006 novel Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell and premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, taking home the honors of the Grand Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting awards. Being it’s second stop in the Film Festival circuit, SXSW was my chance to see this buzzed about film which was technically sound and full of great performances. Winter’s Bone can pretty much be approached as backwoods film noir, and Jennifer Lawrence has made her film presence known by leading the demanding task of the detective in the role of Ree. Lawrence lends the talent you’d expect from an old weathered Hollywood pro and will gain further attention moving forward. The other notable performance is from the antihero of the story Teardrop, played by John Hawkes. Though his screen time is spotty, Hawkes gives us a fully developed character that takes us in several different directions.
Growing up in Northeast Texas near the Arkansas border, I’m very familiar with the Ozark landscape and the people that inhabit it. Winter’s Bone captures the desolate gritty texture of these backwoods and the realism of the “simple people” who live there. The writing of the characters is very respectful and absent of the typical caricatures which usually run wild in films about the south. Where Winter’s Bone becomes difficult is in the dry pacing. The subject matter and atmosphere are already so dark and dreary, that the rate of the events makes the film slide at a snails pace, requesting patience from the audience.
Roadside Attractions picked up North American theatrical distribution to Winter’s Bone at the end of January and plan to open the film in theaters this summer, with Lionsgate handling all ancillaries later in the year. This is the kind of film that will really attract indie/art house goers as it approaches release later in 2010, but don’t expect the general Transformers & Old Dogs watching crowd to have any idea this film existed until award season approaches and nominations are announced.