Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garrett Dillahunt
Director: Debra Granik
Running Time: 100 mins
Winter’s Bone is an American film about a girl who searches through the difficult terrain and social landscape of a struggling mountain community for her father after he jumped bail, all the while trying to keep her family at home together, and stave off threats and attention from a number of individuals with ruinous intentions.
The breakout film for both lead actress Jennifer Lawrence and director Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone has a lot of talent on display, and in tandem with an intimate and strikingly bleak portrayal of a small community, it’s definitely a film that has a lot to say. However, as gritty as it may be, it’s not a film that ever packs a real emotional punch, while it also struggles to keep its most intriguing plot points at the centre of attention, meandering a little too much throughout.
But let’s start with the positives, the biggest of which comes in the form of some very striking and personal directing from Debra Granik. Winter’s Bone is based on a book, but Granik uses a strongly intimate portrayal of life in a small mountain community to great effect, while deepening the intensity of the story at hand with a dark and notably gritty atmosphere.
As a result, Winter’s Bone isn’t exactly the easiest or most pleasant watch, often going beyond expectations with moments of very dark, morally devastating drama, as well as brief outbursts of violence or unpleasant verbal abuse. However, in conjunction with Granik’s boldly bleak style, that atmosphere works very well, managing to grab my attention even when the core events of the story weren’t quite as riveting.
The second real strength to this film is the lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence. While it may seem worlds away from the blockbuster roles that she takes up nowadays, her performance as a young woman taking care of her younger siblings and her sick mother, as well as trying to save the family by finding her father, is really impressive, bringing a stunning maturity, level-headedness and capacity to work in a darker, gritty story to the film.
So, even if the story itself isn’t quite so powerful, watching Lawrence alone makes Winter’s Bone an engaging film throughout, and with a brilliant capacity for high drama despite the film’s quieter, smaller scale, it’s absolutely clear why this film proved to be her breakthrough.
On the downside, however, I can’t say that I was ever particularly struck by Winter’s Bone as a narrative drama. It may be strikingly atmospheric, and features great talent, but as far as telling a really riveting and emotionally hard-hitting story goes, it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Now, there are a number of reasons for that, from the slower pacing to the often episodic nature of the plot, but the principal reason that I was never fully captivated by Winter’s Bone has to be the fact that it really meanders, struggling to nail down its core plot points and tell a slightly simpler but more effective story.
At first, things do seem simpler – Lawrence must find her father before his court appearance or bailiffs will take the house – but as she encounters more and more people from around the community that might have a link to her father’s whereabouts, the story becomes overcomplicated, spending too much time with what are effectively side stories about other individuals, and breaking up the flow of the film’s core plot.
Of course, this is a drama, not a thriller, so it’s understandable why it takes more time out to detail and develop a wide variety of characters and siuations, but the film goes a little too far with that for me, ultimately making for a frustratingly meandering watch that’s difficult to really be engrossed by, and despite its strong atmosphere and impressive lead performance, Winter’s Bone never really lives up to its potential, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.