Film Review: WINTER’S BONE.

Directed by Debra Granik
Written by Granik and Anne Rosellini based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Sheryl Lee

I was fraught with anxiety when I heard a film was being made of my favorite recent novel, WINTER’S BONE. I could see its cinematic potential, but placed in the wrong hands it could end up with the authenticity of a 1970s television show. How often does a great book become a great movie? You can name the few which did as easily as me. When I heard that Debra Granik was the director, I felt some relief. Her last film, DOWN TO THE BONE was terrific. She captured a similar milieu very well. She understood women better than any man might. And a lot of WINTER’S BONE is about women.

The reviews that came out of the Sundance Film Festival couldn’t have been better. I still had certain reservations though. Once I see a story filmed, I can never retreat to my experience with the written word. Ree Dolly will now forever wear Jennifer Lawrence’s face. Teardrop will always be John Hawkes. The Missouri Ozarks will always look like the Ozarks, Granik filmed. There’s a danger if you memory is more visual than word-oriented. But if WINTER’S BONE is not quite able to put Woodrell’s unique voice on the screen, it got everything else right. Better than right.

PLOT: Ree Dolly, at seventeen, is in sole charge of her addled mother and two younger siblings. Barely eking out an existence in Missouri, things grow worse when the sheriff informs her that her father has skipped bail and her house and land will be seized if she cannot find him. Ree sets out on her quest, one made frightening difficult by the new means of survival in places like the Missouri Ozarks: meth labs. Family quickly becomes foe when it looks like their meager existence is threatened by Ree’s questions and quest.

It becomes more and more likely that her father is dead, but this fact needs to be proven as well. How? The resolution of the movie hangs on that question.

In one startling scene, we see pictures of Ree’s family in the past and realize how far they have fallen from the lower middle-class existence they once led. The people she meets on her quest are complex-most having moments of tenderness and moments of venality and cruelty.

Granik never overplays the horror of these lives. She shows it all in a matter-of-fact way. And Lawrence is the perfect vessel to get this across. She is smart, but not too smart; brave but not too brave, self-sacrificing but never iconic. It is hard to imagine a better film than this one or a better performance than Lawrence’s. See it.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at http://www.pattinase.blogspot.com/. She hopes you’ll join in.