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Winter's Bone DVD Review

Winter's Bone movie poster Winter's Bone

Theatrical Release: June 11, 2010 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Debra Granik / Writers: Debra Granik, Anne Rosselini (screenplay); Daniel Woodrell (novel)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Ree Dolly), John Hawkes (Teardrop Dolly), Kevin Breznahan (Little Arthur), Dale Dickey (Merab Milton), Garret Dillahunt (Sheriff Baskin), Sheryl Lee (April Dolly), Lauren Sweetser (Gail), Tate Taylor (Mike Satterfield), Isaiah Stone (Sonny Dolly), Ashlee Thompson (Ashlee Dolly), William White (Blond Milton), Ron "Stray Dog" Hall (Thump Milton), Cinnamon Schultz (Victoria), Shelley Waggener (Sonya), Casey MacLaren (Megan), Sgt. Russel A. Schalk (Army Recruiter), Marideth Sisco (Singer at Party)
Winter's Bone is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).Winter's Bone ranks 28th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

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Of the 55 films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar over the past ten years, 25 were released to U.S. theaters in the month of December. Another 18 opened in October or November. Of the remaining twelve, a mere six were released in the first six months of the year. These are the long odds facing Winter's Bone,
a small drama that made a big impact at this year's Sundance Film Festival and proceeded to become one of 2010's best-reviewed films. But its limited general theatrical release occurred in mid-June, half a year before award season talks really heat up. Can it remain in contention for Best Picture while arriving on home video before most major players have hit theaters?

Aiding its chances are two facts. Like last year, the nominee field for the top prize is ten. Not only does that enable the Academy to be more inclusive (even recognizing crowdpleasers and -- gasp! -- animation), it also urges them to be less forgetful. Two of last year's Best Picture nominees debuted in the first half of 2009 (we must go back nine years to find two first-half Best Picture nominees before them). One of them was The Hurt Locker, whose win raises my other piece of encouragement for Winter's Bone. Of the six first-half movies nominated for Best Picture last decade, three of them actually won the award. The lesson being: once an early-released movie is remembered enough to be nominated, it could very easily win the biggest honor in film.

"Winter's Bone" stars Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old Missouri girl responsible for her younger siblings while her father's absence puts possession of their home in doubt.

Based on crime novelist Daniel Woodrell's 2006 book, Winter's Bone centers on Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a toughened 17-year-old girl living in the Missouri Ozarks. Out of necessity, Ree single-handedly looks after her younger brother (Isaiah Stone) and sister (Ashlee Thompson). The kids' mother is not well mentally; she is quietly stressed or traumatized, so she's there, but she's not quite there. The father is out of the picture as well, and it's to this end that the town sheriff (Garret Dillahunt), never a welcome guest in these parts, pays the family a house visit.

Jessup, the criminal, deadbeat father, is missing and if he doesn't make his scheduled trial date, he will be in violation of his bail bond and his collateral (the family's house and land) will be seized. Seeing no alternative, Ree sets out to find her father. The only trouble is: nobody's talking. Like her father, Ree's relatives are all mixed up in drugs, many of them both using and cooking meth. That's apparently just the way things are in this woodsy, sexist lower-class community. The most sympathy she can muster from her kin is a couple of bills from her baked uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), presumably named for his under-eye tattoo. To provide for her and her siblings, responsible Ree persists in her pursuit, braving grave danger to herself in the process.

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) teaches her younger brother and sister (Ashlee Thompson) how to shoot a gun, a skill that might come in handy should they want to eat. On the heels of a "Breaking Bad" stint, actress Dale Dickey brings the right look to the part of small-town meth folk like Merab.

Winter's Bone takes a low boil approach. The film is vague at first, so its story comes into focus while suspense is building masterfully. The setting and characters encountered here are not like those seen in mainstream movies. The only recent film that comes to mind as comparable is Frozen River, another acclaimed indie set in the cold backwoods and throwing a cash-strapped mother figure into a world of crime she's not suited for. Actually, that 2008 drama parallels this 2010 one almost perfectly, down to winning Sundance's Grand Jury Prize, near-unanimous reviews, leading lady acclaim, and limited distribution.

As the saying goes, if you liked Frozen River, you'll love Winter's Bone. I think so, anyway. There is more going on here than in the earlier film that earned Melissa Leo a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Winter's Bone gives us a lot of scenery and atmosphere to chew on. While Ree is our lead and in every scene, we're as interested in the sketchy world around her as we are in her herself.

Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) is reluctant to put down his weapon and step out of his truck for the suspicious Sheriff Baskin. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) considers the army as a way to provide for her family.

Nothing is glamorous or artificial about this universe. The film is exceptionally cast, so that you never doubt for a second that these people live in this poor society which shows no overt sign of being in the present day. There isn't a hugely famous name or face found here, although that may very well change now.
Even through the rugged nature of the part, you can tell that Jennifer Lawrence has a movie star prettiness to her. But, as a Kentuckian, she is also very much at ease with the Mid-Southern dialogue and duties she is assigned.

Like Ellen Page before her, Lawrence should have no trouble fitting into the X-Men universe (where she has been cast as the young Mystique in the prequel First Class, shooting now for release next summer). And yet, it's this more challenging, less comfortable role (her Hard Candy, if you will) that has won her opportunity, attention, and respect. To go from "The Bill Engvall Show" to serious Academy Award consideration in just one year is nothing short of remarkable. Not only does Lawrence deserve kudos for carrying this film as much as she does, but so do those who cast her, giving her the chance to shine in a low-key, artful way.

Winter's Bone is just the second feature film directed by Debra Granik. Her first was the decorated but largely unseen Down to the Bone (notice a title trend?). As on that film, Granik receives a screenplay credit here, alongside producer Anne Rosellini. Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director win at this year's Academy Awards kind of confirmed the unspoken standard for female directors to aspire to, which is to make a movie that a talented man might make as a talented man might have made it. When the end credits roll, viewers should be surprised to see a woman's name there. Women are so rarely employed as director and so rarely on anything serious that it seems premature to put too much stock or concern into that precedent. However, even if the film makes it into the Best Picture category, Granik is a long shot to elicit a Best Director nomination, not because of her gender or unexceptional work, but because of her lack of experience; the awards are always as much about careers as they are about exemplary single showings.

With a field of ten, those who like to see all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscar ceremony have their work cut out for them again. Should Winter's Bone make the cut, you'll have no excuse not to have seen it beforehand, since Lionsgate brings it to DVD and Blu-ray on October 26th. That gives you nineteen weeks until Oscar Night and even if renting is your game and you prefer the convenience of Netflix or the potentially low-priced immediacy of Redbox, you don't have to wait for delay windows, because Lionsgate doesn't play that game, at least not yet.

Winter's Bone DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $9.98 (Reduced from $27.98)
Eco-Friendly Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($29.99 $9.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Both picture and sound are excellent on Lionsgate's DVD. The 1.78:1 element has a stunning clarity to it that leaves nothing to be desired from the cold, dreary forest settings, which the atmospheric Dolby 5.1 soundtrack does a splendid job of selling.

Debra Granik gives Jennifer Lawrence direction in "The Making of 'Winter's Bone.'" Ree and Gail's (Lauren Sweetser) cut roadside lullaby to Gail's baby Ned appears in the DVD's big documentary as well as a separate deleted scenes selection.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Debra Granik and director of photography Michael McDonough. Soft-spoken, she is big on identifying actors and filming locations. Irish, he shares his point of view by discussing the challenges of shooting and lighting scenes. The two talk all the way through, consistently dispensing information in a moderately engaging way.

Next up is "The Making of Winter's Bone", whose title might lead you to expect the typical fluffy 10-minute everyone-was-so-wonderful praisefest. In fact, this runs 46 minutes, 35 seconds and employs a design more befitting of a small, handmade production. The majority of the piece is candid set footage, showing us direction, rehearsal, raw takes, and day-for-night filming.
We also get audition footage, several deleted scenes, and general behind-the-scenes looks. Though it may not give studios as clean an opportunity to calculatedly promote the film, such unfettered set access is always more fun and revealing than slickly-edited sound bites. This is a really nice, substantial documentary.

An alternate opening (1:30) supplies black and white Super 8 footage of the youngest Dolly sister, understandably replaced by something more appropriately scene-setting.

Raw and rough, four deleted scenes aren't film-ready, but they make for interesting views. The longest finds Ree building a fire and cavedreaming. Others have the younger siblings calling their missing dog and take Ree and her best friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser) food shopping and singing a lullaby to Gail's baby on the side of the road. They run 10 minutes and 14 seconds in total without a "Play All" option. Two of these also appear in the making-of documentary along with another deletion and extension that aren't preserved here.

Concluding with shots of pets and their owners, Dickon Hinchliffe's "Hardscrabble Elegy" is not your typical movie music video. Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) assumes a lunar presence on the DVD's main menu montage.

A 1.33:1 music video for Dickon Hinchliffe's instrumental "Hardscrabble Elegy" (2:56) features grainy footage (some black & white, some color) of nature, wild animals, pets and their owners.

Four pages of Music Credits identify the songs featured in the film and list URLs and books of relevance to the musicians.

The theatrical trailer for Winter's Bone (2:25), touting its Sundance achievement and high critical praise, is preserved in full 16:9 picture and 5.1 sound. "Also from Lionsgate" plays the same six trailers that run automatically at disc insertion, for Biutiful, Tetro, The Stoning of Soraya M., Happy Tears, Princess Kaiulani, and The Next Three Days.

The DVD's scored, animated main menu runs blue-tinted montage in the sky part of the poster/cover design.

The inquiries of Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) are met with distrust and silence by relatives like Megan (Casey MacLaren).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Winter's Bone really is one of the best films of the year I've seen so far. Engrossing and compelling, this small, suspenseful drama succeeds with a raw, gritty, convincing reality rarely encountered. Lionsgate's DVD delivers a knockout feature presentation and the satisfying bonus features leave just about nothing to be desired. This earns a strong recommendation and it's one of just a handful of 2010 movies thus far worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Let's see if the Academy can remember it for another few months.

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Reviewed October 15, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Roadside Attractions, Anonymous Content, Winter's Bone Productions, and Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.