Best Picture Nominee Review: Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone is a decent independent film but because of the word "independent" has received a lot more acclaim than it should have.  It features competent directing, some strong acting and a good screenplay but nothing beyond that.  The critical acclaim for this one is a little misguided. Sure critics have a right to be excited about seeing something that they don't know (in this case life in the rural areas of Southern Midwest), but do they still have the right to be excited if what they are shown is an inaccurate portrayal?  With Winter's Bone I find that the type of lifestyle displayed is way too exaggerated to the point that I start laughing when almost every critic lauds the film for its realism.

The film takes place in a rural community in the Ozarks and follows Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence in her breakthrough role), a teenage girl left in charge of her family as her father is missing and her mother is not healthy enough to go about daily life.  Ree is told by the local sheriff that her father put up their house as collateral for his bail as he is to appear in court for a crime he committed.  Ree must now find her father to save her house and her family.  Unfortunately, her own family members are reluctant to help.

Debra Granik (A Sundance Film Festival favorite) directed and co-wrote the script (along with Anne Rosellini).  Both areas are only competent enough to get the film across the finish line.  Granik shows no skills in the level of greatness when it comes to directing.  However, she should be commended for pulling together this film on such a low budget and making it a film that most people could sit through.  With the script, I did complain earlier how the film portrays a not quite accurate depiction of life in the Ozarks, but I don't put the blame for this on the screenwriters.  This thinking was only brought up by critics and the script does not at any point say that it is trying to be an accurate depiction.  However, the script still has some problems.  It is a little clunky at points and its characters are only somewhat memorable because of the acting.  The supporting characters are not well written at all.

However, that doesn't mean the supporting characters are bad.  The acting does save them.  John Hawkes puts in some great work as Ree's stone cold uncle.  Dale Dickey has probably the worst written character in the film but is able to stop her character from being a liability for the film.  The always great Garret Dillahunt is in the film as well.  However, the actor of note in this film is the lead, Jennifer Lawrence.  Lawrence has a type of charisma that makes you instantly believe she really is a tough chick that will face off against anyone that gets in her way.  Lawrence is somehow also able to play all the vulnerabilities of the character perfectly.  This is hopefully the first of many memorable roles from this young actress.

The behind the camera aspects are not really that impressive either.  The editing could have easily taken some of the clunky-ness out of the film but didn't.  There isn't anything impressive about the aural aspects of the film.  The visual aspects weren't impressive either (with one exception).  The cinematography perfectly captures the grittyness of the film but at the same time is able to catch the beauty of the Ozarks. 

Winter's Bone has been referred to as the critics darling of the year (at least if The Social Network didn't exist) and it probably is.  Unfortunately, the critics are seeing something that I am not.  This is just a basic crime drama that happened to be an independent film with a breakout performance by a hot actress.  I guess those are the perfect ingredients for an overrated critically acclaimed film.


This film has been nominated for 4 Academy Awards including:
-Best Picture
-Best Lead Actress-Jennifer Lawrence
-Best Supporting Actor-John Hawkes
-Best Adapted Screenplay

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