Mahatma Gandhi said that "poverty is the worst form of violence" since it affects body, mind, soul, and place. It is not just a lack of money but rather a lack of opportunities. This grim and realistic film directed by Debra Granik is set in impoverished rural Missouri where the residents have trashed the land with wrecked autos, discarded objects, empty crates, and papers. There aren't many films made about the violence of poverty in America. We have reviewed three recent ones: Frozen River, Chop Shop, and Wendy and Lucy. It is not a subject that movie-goers seem to want to confront in any deep or transformative way. Winter's Bone is worth seeing for its searing portrait of a young girl's valiant struggle to save her family in this terrible environment.
Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is raising her younger brother and sister since her mother is nearly catatonic and unable to handle everyday matters. Her father, Jessep, a methamphetamine cook, is missing and no one knows what has happened to him. Ree is startled to hear from the sheriff that her dad put up his house and land as bail for his latest arrest. If he doesn’t show up in court, his family will have to leave their home within a week.
Meanwhile, Ree has to take her horse to be cared for by a neighbor since she is unable to feed it anymore. "Don't ask for what's not offered," she tells her little brother who wants to ask others for food to fill his empty stomach. Knowing that she's going to have to go and track down her father's whereabouts, Ree teaches the kids how to shoot and skin wild animals.
Many of the people who live in the run-down area are distant cousins involved in illegal activities so they are reluctant to tell this stubborn young girl anything about her father. Drug use has taken a toll on their physical and mental condition. In addition they have turned the places where they mix the drug into toxic dumps. Surprisingly, the only one who turns out to be of any real help to her is Teardrop (John Hawkes), her scary uncle. He is an addict who has a hard time managing his anger. With no work available, Ree goes to see a military recruiter who tells her that she's too young to enlist and besides, she cannot use her signing bonus to pay off her father's bail.
Winter's Bone doesn't flinch in its relentlessly bleak depiction of this poor white rural Missouri community. The screenplay by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini makes Ree into a credible heroine who is called upon at an early age to assume full responsibility for saving her family as well as their home. Jennifer Lawrence gives an Academy Award-caliber performance in a role that gives her the chance to express many volatile emotions while on her quest to locate her father. It is refreshing to see a young woman in a lead role as a true heroine whose character qualities include resilience, courage, and pluck.
Special features on the DVD include an audio commentary with director Debra Granik, a featurette "Making of Winter's Bone," a music video "Hardscrabble Elegy" performed by Dickon HInchlifee, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.