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Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly sets out to track down her father, who put their house up for his bail bond and then disappeared. If she fails, Ree and her family will be turned out into the Ozark woods. Challenging her outlaw kin's code of silence and risking her life, Ree hacks through the lies, evasions and threats offered up by her relatives and begins to piece together the truth.
For more about Winter's Bone and the Winter's Bone Blu-ray release, see Winter's Bone Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 18, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (III), John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt, Sheryl Lee, Tate Taylor, Dale Dickey
Director: Debra Granik
» See full cast & crew
Winter's Bone Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 18, 2010
And you thought your family was dysfunctional.
When James Dickey's novel Deliverance hit the best seller lists in 1970, and then was followed by the acclaimed 1972 John Boorman film adaptation, the title became synonymous with backwoods hillbillies with evil intent. It's a little odd that somehow the public at large never really thought about the meaning of Dickey's title, and the at the very least escape it implied. Of course deliverance in its richer connotations can also suggest liberation or even salvation, and that kind of deliverance is front and center in Debra Granik's disturbing film Winter's Bone. Oh, and there are most definitely backwoods hillbillies with evil intent, as well as (perhaps against all odds) an iconic banjo. Winter's Bone won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and seems poised to capture an Oscar nomination (if voters' memories are that long—not always a sure thing) for breakout star Jennifer Lawrence, who invests the role of Ozark teenager Ree Dolly with the sort of grit and determination that would be completely at home in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Winter's Bone may not have the subtle intellectualism of Steinbeck, and in fact owes more to the Southern Gothic tradition of Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and even Dickey himself, but the resilience of the human spirit under duress, always a major Steinbeck theme, is part and parcel of this riveting story about a young girl forced to endure a horrific odyssey among her Ozark kin when her father, an outlaw meth "cooker," puts her family house and property at stake by forking it over to a bail bondsman and then summarily disappearing as his court date nears.
Ree Dolly is a young girl with a lot on her shoulders. Her mother is incapacitated, evidently the victim of some sort of mental breakdown. Ree takes care of her, as well as her two younger siblings, while keeping her family's primitive Ozark cabin running as best she can. As Winter's Bone opens, she discovers that her ne'er-do-well father, on the lam from the law, has placed the Dolly home and timberland as collateral for his bond and has evidently skipped town. Ree has a week to find him or she, her mother and her siblings will be forced to vacate what little shelter they have. That sets Ree out on a nightmare journey through the Ozark backwoods, meeting a host of frightening folk, most of whom she is related to in some way.
Winter's Bone has evidently been marketed as a thriller, and most of the pull quotes on the Blu-ray case refer to it that way, but this is not so much a whodunit as it is one valiant girl's individual quest to assert her place in one of the most unusual societies ever caught on film. The squalor and destitution of the backwoods folks portrayed in this film are palpable. Everything from shells of cars to ancient appliances litter the yards of shacks that seem to be standing only through some insane act of Rube Goldberg divine intervention. The menfolk are almost uniformly terrorizers, most of them involved in meth production, and the womenfolk, though obviously abused, are not meek little lambs, at least when other women like Ree come along to question what the men have been up to.
Lawrence, an actress who prior to Winter's Bone has really only had a recurring role on The Bill Engvall Show as her best known credit, is a revelation in this role, and there's good reason that there is already considerable Oscar buzz around this performance. Ree is a fully fleshed out character, a young woman in a desperate situation who manages, somehow, not to totally lose hope even when things appear beyond hopeless. Lawrence never overplays her hand; there are no overt histrionics, but similarly, she doesn't parody or downplay the horror and subterfuge that Ree is accosted with as she treks across the Ozark hills to figure out what has happened to her father. This is a pitch perfect performance from a young woman who will most likely be a major star in another few years.
The supporting cast here is similarly excellent, especially John Hawkes as Ree's Uncle, a character who starts out as a menacing abuser and then reveals a surprisingly vulnerable side. Also unforgettable is Dale Dickey as Merab, the wife of the interfamily patriarch, himself a brute who isn't about to take any guff from an upstart young girl. It's just that he sends his wife out to do his dirty work. The scenes between Dickey and Lawrence fairly bristle with a kinetic energy that turns to outright terror in the climactic scene when Merab reveals where Ree's father is.
Granik does incredible work here recreating a squalid and at times almost unbearably primitive set of living conditions. Her Ozark Mountains are a place of stark beauty, filled with grays and faint blues, and the puff of chimney smoke attempting to ward off the wintry chill. The fact that amid all this low life we have a scintilla of hope at the end of Winter's Bone is perhaps Granik's most formidable achievement. The gorgeous use of folk music helps to at least partially ameliorate the horrors we're witnessing, and there is one really wonderful scene Granik stages at a family singalong where real life folklorist and vocalist Marideth Sisco sings some haunting songs as Ree attempts to get to the bottom of her father's disappearance.
Winter's Bone is not an easy film to watch, and in fact the denouement may have more than a few people cringing in horror as Ree is forced to perform an unimaginable act in order to save her family home. But the performances here are so spot on, and Granik's unflinching eye is so acutely honed in on the emotions roiling just beneath the stoic surface of Ree, that this film has a visceral effect that is profound and really amazingly moving. It's easy to have hope when things are going reasonably well. The fact that Ree Dolly manages to maintain a modicum of dignity and optimism even as her world is tumbling down around her is an object lesson for all of us, and it makes Winter's Bone an unforgettable film experience.
Winter's Bone Blu-ray, Video Quality
Winter's Bone is given a chilly, almost monochromatic looking image, delivered on this Blu-ray via an AVC codec in 1080p and 1.78:1. Granik and DP Michael McDonough have cast this film in a variety of grays and pale blues, and even fleshtones appear desaturated. The entire film in fact seems virtually one step away from black and white. That gives things a stark, often oppressive, beauty, but it also means that some detail is lost, especially in the film's many dark scenes. Outdoor shots fare best here, where the natural lighting allows good depth of field and some excellent fine detail in close-ups. The many interior shots, which similarly seem lit naturally a lot of the time, are clad in a lot of shadow and intentional murkiness and the low contrast means backgrounds just kind of disappear if they're not even minimally lit. That actually helps to give this film its claustrophobic ambience, but some hi-def aficionados will no doubt take the Blu-ray to task for this situation, when it was obviously an intentional choice by Granik and her DP.
Winter's Bone Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Winter's Bone offers a very subtle, yet insistently immersive, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that benefits both from the ambient environmental sounds which populate the soundtrack, as well as the gorgeous and haunting traditional folk music which is used both as underscore and, occasionally, onscreen as well. For a film this deliberately small and ostensibly quiet (despite bouts of violence), the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track offers a wealth of nice ambient noises, especially as Ree makes her way through hill and dale. The crackling of fire, leaves rustling in the wind and other sounds of the woods fill the surrounds quite invitingly. There's also a nice differentiation in reverb and overall ambience between the outdoor and indoor segments. When things do turn toward violence, this track supports the increased dynamics effortlessly, and the infrequent, though very frightening, use of LFE also is handled very well. This isn't an overtly showy track by any means, but like the film itself, it works its subliminal spell incredibly effectively.
Winter's Bone Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Several excellent extras supplement the main feature.
A quietly engaging Commentary by Granik and DP McDonough offers a wealth of background information, though truth be told, Granik's sometimes halting, extremely understated talking style was hard to listen to for an hour and a half.
The Making of 'Winter's Bone' (720p; 46:38) has some great behind the scenes footage, including long segments of props being discussed and scenes being set up.
Four Deleted Scenes (720p; 10:07) aren't just the scenes themselves, they also include director Granik giving notes and getting her actors ready to shoot.
Hardscrabble Elegy (SD; 2:59) is a score excerpt by composer Dickon Hinchliffe set to wintry scenes.
Music Credits provides a text extra giving information on the many source cues utilized in the film.
The theatrical trailer rounds out the supplements.
Winter's Bone Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Winter's Bone is a disturbing film that nonetheless manages against all odds to be invested with at least a modicum of optimism. Jennifer Lawrence emerges as one of the most startling new talents in years with a nuanced and provocative portrayal as put upon teen Ree Dolly, and director Debra Granik manages to tread a very fine line between exploiting these often distasteful characters while at the same time offering a realistic portrayal of the Ozark backwoods. Highly recommended.
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Winter's Bone Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Winter's Bone Blu-ray Announced - August 6, 2010
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced Winter's Bone for Blu-ray release on October 26. This independent drama about a 17-year-old girl out to find her fugitive father earned universal critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Grand Jury Prize for ...
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