Tag Team Review – Winter’s Bone

Woof! It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these hasn’t it? For those of you who are new to Casta La Vista the answer is yes, it is.

Chris and Chris have both watched Winter’s Bone this past week and both had things to say on it. The current episode was already too packed full of goodies to fit in any audio response, so here instead is a smattering of words from the pair (in turns) on the Debra Granik movie that stars Jennifer Lawrence as a teenage girl left to look after her brother, sister and ill mother who is then lumped with the task of tracking down her estranged father before the bail bondsman takes their house.

First up, Chris W;

I have no idea what ‘him down there’ is going to write – we just put these things together with a quick copy and paste job – so I’ll start by simply saying that I consider myself very lucky to have seen Winter’s Bone. It took me THREE ATTEMPTS to see this moving and intense drama. Twice I was scuppered by terrible traffic and the third time a tardy bus meant I missed the trailers and only got into the screening at the opening credits; I hope I didn’t miss much!

I’m glad I went to the trouble to see it though because the central role is one to savour. Equal parts confident, isolated, naive and fragile, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Ree Dolly is rightfully drawing Oscar rumours and will hopefully earn the supermodel (she tidies up nice let me tell you) at least a nomination come February. Strong (as in developed) female roles are hard to come by in cinema and it is great to see a character that could so easily fall into caricature and stereotype being given room to show emotion and range. Some of the strongest scenes of the movie come when Ree simply stands silently and reacts to a piece of information she has just received – usually in a threatening manner.

Caps doffed too to John Hawkes, a character actor whose face people will definitely recognise from film and TV, finally getting a more established role and screen time to play with. As the scary uncle Teardrop he commands attention and is a constant question mark throughout the film; is he good or bad; does he care more about family or self-preservation?  His departure from the film is one of the most understated I have seen this year and leaves no doubt as to his destination, an event larger scale productions would certainly have shown on screen.

Tonally Winter’s Bone felt very similar to 2008’s Frozen River, another film with a strong central female performance – this time about running illegal immigrants over the US-Canadian border. Both films deal with isolated communities where word of mouth is unavoidable, and the lead character is fending for themselves in a man’s world weighed down by bureaucracy. Whilst Winter’s Bone is perhaps not as thrilling as Frozen River, with slightly lower stakes by its conclusion, it still establishes a world in which a character’s actions can be understood and justified, if not entirely condoned.

My final serious point before I finish on something stupid is to say that Debra Granik should be praised for her handling of the subject matter. In particular there is a black and white dream sequence about half way through the movie which in other hands might feel out of sync with the rest of the film. Without any set up or explanation we are left to interpret the meaning of a series of sounds and images and this sort of respect for an audience should be nurtured and encouraged. It also definitely adds intensity to the sound of a chainsaw further down the line when it is used in a scene that is already harrowing enough!

It’s probably been and gone from most cinemas, but Winter’s Bone is definitely one worth hunting down, and might just get a rerelease around awards season. Keep them peeled.

Oh, and my stupid comment; in all these films with lower class, backwoods communities where people struggle to put money and food on the table and turn to drugs or crime to fund their existence…doesn’t anyone ever think of applying for a job at McDonalds? I mean those guys are everywhere these days and they’re always hiring. I’m just saying is all.

DONE!

And now to Chris M;

Well what’s there left to say after what’s been said already? As usual my good friend Ceedub has heaped on all the necessary praise and left me to pick holes in all the parts of the film I didn’t enjoy, and that’s just fine with me as it’s what I do best.

As alluded to in Cast Boot, this was the second film I saw last week (along with the Town) which, although I can understand the praise it has been receiving and will happily acknowledge the fact that it’s a “good film” (as far as standard definitions of “good” can go) there was just something about it which stopped me engaging with it in the manner required for me to really enjoy it. Enjoyment for me doesn’t just derive from technical competency and critical acclaim; it usually comes from stuff exploding.

Seriously though the thing that usually pulls me into a movie is engagement with the characters and the situations they find themselves in and as well built up as Ree’s situation is, I just couldn’t get on board. Part of me suspects that this is because the movie chooses to set itself so deep within a realistic community that you lose some of the norms that we usually take for granted in storytelling; things like having easily distinguishable characters and locations or a real sense that the lead character’s actions have some influence on the development of the story.

Ree does eventually get some results, but it felt to me that it was due to her incessant badgering rather than any great sleuthing skills or achievements on her part (unless you can call getting beat up an achievement) – an understandable choice but one that left me feeling that Ree was more of a passenger than I would have expected from (as Chris rightly says) such a strong female protagonist.

It comes as no great surprise to me that this film is being tipped for Oscar success already but Joe Average Cinema Goer will probably feel underwhelmed by Winter’s Bone’s subtleties and want a little more incident for their money. Ultimately for me, Winter’s Bone became a victim of its naturalistic form and as good a film as this no doubt is, it won’t be figuring anywhere near my top ten of the year whilst other more ridiculous films probably will be.

 

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2 Responses to Tag Team Review – Winter’s Bone

  1. Castor says:

    Glad you guys mostly enjoyed it. The film does have a minimalistic feel which can take away a bit from the overall enjoyment factor for some. Nevertheless, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance alone makes this movie worth a watch.

    • wakeman24 says:

      It’s always interesting when one performance makes a film worthwhile- it puts a lot of pressure on every element of the film then- people become more critical of the story, and the performance is scrutinised to see if it is really worth the hype.

      In this instance I think it succeeds- Winter’s Bone has become one of my favourites of last year. I think every element of it was successful, and hopefully the awards noms will start coming in pretty soon for it.

      Glad you enjoyed it too.

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