One of the genuine indie breakout hits of the past year, Debra Granik’s compelling drama provided a star-making role for Jennifer Lawrence and was a reminder that darker, intelligent films outside of the studio system can make an impact.
Set in the Ozarks and adapted from Daniel Woodrel’s novel, it is the story of 17 year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), who has to find her missing father after he has used the family house as a way of securing his bail.
Faced with losing her home, Ree challenges the local community for answers and gradually uncovers a web of deceit in an area blighted by crime, drugs and poverty.
Shot with a keen eye for detail, writer-director Granik managed to skilfully combine the tropes of a serious drama within the framework of a thriller, as the central character gradually uncovers the mystery surrounding her missing father.
Along the way we see all manner of shifty characters, ranging from relatives (John Hawkes), friends (Sheryl Lee) and witch-like locals (Dale Dickey) who might hold the key to finding Ree’s father.
In addition it is also a powerful study in courage, as the female protagonist not only has to provide for her family but also venture into the a darker world run of local crime, which largely revolves around the buying and selling of crystal meth.
In a remarkably mature performance, Jennifer Lawrence conveys just the right amounts of determination, anger and intelligence, without ever resorting to cliché.
It has been accurately described as a star making turn, but the fact that there are precious few roles like this for any actresses, even in more high-profile films, is still a depressing sign of the times.
However, the supporting cast is also excellent with John Hawkes especially good as the ambiguous uncle who may or may not be an ally, and the blend of non-actors with the main cast is faultless, but never showy.
Granik immersed herself in the area and shot much of the film in the houses of local residents, many of whom appear in the film, and there is a harsh authenticity to the film which is startling, even for an independent film like this.
The wintry landscape of the Ozarks is superbly evoked and the rich atmosphere is enhanced by the use of local songs and music, some of which are performed on camera by locals.
It deservedly reaped a lot of acclaim at Sundance 2010, where it won the Grand Jury Prize as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for Granik and her co-writer Anne Rosellini.
Despite the grim rural setting and the unflinching depiction of the crystal meth problem in the rural South, distributor Roadside Attractions helped it become one of the major indie success stories of the year, as it grossed over $7m worldwide and landed 4 Oscar nominations.
All the success must have been gratifying for Granik after her previous film, the addiction drama Down to the Bone (2004), struggled to get distributed due to its downbeat subject matter.
The DVD & Blu-ray release comes of the back of last week’s Oscar nominations, which should provide a good word-of-mouth boost and the chance for discerning audiences to catch the film.
Shot digitally on the Red One camera, the film looks especially good on Blu-ray with its cold and semi-monochromatic look.
The UK disc unfortunately omits the director’s commentary, but features the following extras:
- The Making of ‘Winter’s Bone’ (46:38): A slow but fascinating assembly of behind the scenes footage, featuring sequences being set up and some revealing B-roll footage.
- Four Deleted Scenes (10:07): The deleted scenes are shown alongside Granik giving notes and preparing her actors.
- Hardscrabble Elegy (2:59): This musical segment is taken from Dickon Hinchliffe’s distinctive score and set to wintry locations featured in the film.
- Alternate Opening
- Theatrical Trailer
Winter’s Bone is out on Monday 31st January from Artificial Eye
> Buy Winter’s Bone on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon UK
> Review of Winter’s Bone at Metacritic
> Find out more about the Ozarks at Wikipedia