Winter's Bone | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Winter's Bone

A lean, but haunting tale of resilience, set in the Ozarks

Debra Granik's slow-burn of a drama is a spare Appalachian noir told with an economy of dialogue and plot. Yet don't mistake its leanness for lack of intrigue, revelatory nature or emotional impact. The film builds to a payoff that splits the difference between heartbreaking and heartwarming, and is hard to forget. 

The film follows Ree, a teen-age girl living in rural poverty in southern Missouri. Her mother is incapacitated with mental illness, so Ree looks after her, the house and her two younger siblings. Her life is tough, but no more so than that of her neighbors. This is a place where opportunity or change is limited to joining the military. 

Things get complicated when Ree's estranged father -- a meth cooker -- disappears before a court date, jeopardizing his bond. Ree has less than a week to produce her dad -- or proof of his demise -- or she'll lose the homestead, and her family. With her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes, of Deadwood), as a reluctant guide, Ree begins to untangle the fate of her father. It's a path that winds through troubling encounters with distant relatives involved in the meth trade, who are as disinclined to help as they are quick to lift a shotgun.

Jennifer Lawrence is great as the unflinching Ree, who has little time for self-pity, but also remains a child, still taken aback by life's disappointments and fate's unfairness. Hawkes, one the film's few professional actors, does fine work as her scary-sad-lost uncle.

Granik shot on location in the Ozarks, and her film is rich with shots of the bleak winter landscape and the region's remote rural corners. It can be tricky to produce a film in such a socio-economic setting that is frequently caricatured or amped up for cheap window-dressing. Yet Bone remains clear-eyed in its depiction, neither romanticizing nor vilifying its characters: Their strengths and weaknesses are all too universal; what's harder to overcome are their limited options. Starts Fri., Aug. 6. Manor