I saw Winter’s Bone over the weekend and can’t recommend it enough. This film has been critically praised since its Sundance debut, and in my opinion it isn’t just hype: I can’t think of a single way this film could’ve been better. It’s scary and gritty and heartfelt all at the same time.
The story focuses on Ree, the 17-year-old caretaker of her family, looking for her father so the law won’t repossess their home. As she searches, the film gently but thoroughly fleshes out her small world in the Missouri Ozarks. The story ping-pongs from a local high school, to the quiet forest behind her house, to a crowded, booming livestock auction, and you get a sense of the community she lives in. You might get the same sense of place from a slower verite story, or a documentary, but here it’s used expertly as a backdrop for a harrowing noir tale full of dangerous secrets and violent standoffs.
I think that’s why a film like this, made by educated urbanites for educated urbanites, doesn’t come off as condescending to this way of life. (Or at least that’s how it felt to me; I wonder how poor white folks would feel about it.) Winter’s Bone shows a world full of violence and poverty, but there is still neighborly compassion and the harsh beauty of the landscape. Over the course of the film you see Ree shine as a tough, compassionate heroine, but perhaps just as importantly, you start to understand why somebody so strong would choose to stay in the Ozarks, close to the land and the people that she knows. This is pretty much a perfect film.