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Winter's Bone - Film Class Assignment
Kowboy
I'm taking a summer film class to make my fall graduation requirements lighter. I have to have a summary, a first concept, a second concept, my interpretation and a summary. Let me know what you think:

Kowboy
Introduction to the Film
Summer ll, 2010
July 16, 2010

Winter’s Bone is the story of Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl who cares for her six-year-old sister, twelve-year-old brother and nearly catatonic mother in a cabin in the country. She manages to stay in high school in spite of these adult responsibilities. Her father has been arrested for manufacturing methamphetamine and collateralized his bond with the family cabin and timberland acreage. As the movie begins, his trial date is quickly approaching. Since no one has seen him since he bonded out of jail, it seems likely he is going to skip which will induce bond forfeiture. If Ree doesn’t find her father and bring him to trial, she and her family will be homeless and destitute.

Debra Gronik, Winter’s Bone’s director, uses Ree’s immediate search efforts to introduce us to the cast of characters that compose the rural community. Among others, we meet the struggling young couple with an infant, the heart-of-gold neighbor and partner-in-crime and intimidating uncle Teardrop. All are cast perfectly. We also get a feel for the depth of the area’s poverty; a comforting economic counterbalance and rationalization of the pervasive lawlessness.

The further Ree digs, the more warnings she gets to lay off from the country mafia. Teardrop believes his brother’s choices are his alone to make and shouldn’t be influenced by anyone, particularly by a seventeen-year-old girl. They aren’t unsympathetic to her predicament; they even provide a direct cash subsidy on several occasions. They also offer her methamphetamine and after handing her a handful of cash, Teardrop’s wife says “Here’s a doobie for your walk (home).”

That dialogue is typical of the realism of this well-written film. Although the story, characters and setting are crude and unsophisticated, “gritty” is too cliché a description. The writing of this movie is anti-grit. This movie is a whitewater raft trip on a river smooth enough to lure us in, yet with enough twists and turns that we constantly dread the waterfall we won’t see until it’s too late. There is an unrelenting pace. Like the river, it continues whether we watch from our raft or the safety of shore. When the children are frolicking in large hay bales, my wife and movie partner quietly sighed “Oh no.” Even though nothing happened to the kids, the undercurrent of dread overwhelms even the most innocent scene. The last movie equally endowed with this trait was No Country For Old Men.

While the dialogue was perfectly sparse, there were some logical gaps in the story. Early on, the bondsman who posted her father’s bail visits Ree. Her adversarial relationship with the sheriff who visited earlier was understandable, but why is she combative with a man who shares her agenda? The bondsman doesn’t want the homestead, he wants his fugitive as does Ree. It is unbelievable that she doesn’t cooperate with him.

A couple of women who had administered an intimidation beating to Ree several weeks earlier show up and offer to take her to her father’s body. If they bring back proof he is dead, the charges will be dropped and the bond forfeiture will be moot. They offer to do this to get this issue behind the community and presumably to get back to business without additional legal scrutiny. Why have they waited so long? Proving her father’s death would have eliminated the need for the intimidation beating.

Ree agrees to be hooded and driven to the site. Watching the women load Ree and a chainsaw into a small boat, viewers are torn. Is this a set-up for Ree’s murder or are the women really trying to make their problems go away? Later, when the police ask Ree how she got the hands she turned in as evidence of her father’s death, she lies and said “Someone flung ‘em on my porch.” Why couldn’t the women have retrieved the hands themselves and done just that? Widening the circle of possible betrayers by taking Ree to her father’s watery grave seems a foolish and unreasonable risk, even for such a tight-knit community as this.

No logical complaints can be made with the photography in the film. We are shown the barren trees in this winter season contrasted against the sky. It’s all black and white as the squirrels scurry and the timber falls with the chainsaw wailing in the background. It seems the cinematographer was unable to remove the blue tint from his camera lens unless he was capturing the bright refuge of the high school or the police station. Denim seems to dominate; other colors are held in check. We know the cabins are chilly inside not from the layered clothing, but the from cool look. The cinematic feel is that of a documentary.

Choosing what to photograph is just as important as how to photograph. We are treated to a squirrel-skinning scene in which Ree forces her younger brother to gut a skinned squirrel, despite his trepidations. When he finally relents, with guts in hand he asks, “Do we eat this part?” to which his sister replies “Not yet.” This is a perfect combination of the excellent screenplay writing and photography.

In this excerpt from Daniel Woodell’s book, on which the movie was based, we can see the screenwriters haven’t strayed far from the author’s intentions:
“Ree’s hope was that these boys would not be dead to wonder at age twelve, dulled to life, empty of kindness, boiling with mean. So many Dolly kids were that way, ruined before they had chin hair, groomed to live outside square law and abide by the remorseless blood-soaked commandments that governed their lives led outside square law.” http://www.winter...xcerpt.pdf
“…dead to wonder.., dulled to life…, boiling with mean.” Those are amazing chops and I am envious of this writer’s abilities and talent.

Some critics describe Winter’s Bone as an archetypal right-of-passage film but one has to have a childhood from which to pass to make that transition. Ree instructs her six-year-old sister on deer stew preparation and teaches hunting to her siblings as she was probably taught at their ages. Ree knows instinctively she must hold the homestead, it’s in her DNA. There is no transition from girl to womanhood; that was ancient history.

Overall, Winter’s Bone deserves every bit of the critical acclaim it has received. In these days of over-the-top movie budgets, it’s refreshing to see how much can be done with so little. A movie with no car chases and no inevitable couple match-up keeps us riveted for an hour and a half effortlessly. The Best Picture and Best Screenplay awards from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival were richly deserved.
 
catman
Well, it made me want to see the movie! Your review is well-written. I could quibble with the use of the semicolons, but if it's not a composition for an English class, it probably won't matter.
 
Hypatia
Kowboy, I think your review is excellently written. Very good writing. Like Cat, after reading it I would see the movie too.
 
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