By Paul Hansen

The film adaption of Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone continues to play in theatres.

The movie takes place in a rural area of the Ozarks and follows the adventures of 17-year old Ree Dolly, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Ree’s father has posted bail for a drug dealing charge and used the family’s house as collateral to get out of jail.  The father has apparently disappeared and Ree must locate him if the family is to maintain a roof over its head.  Since the departure of the father, Ree has assumed defacto leadership of the family as her mother is catatonic and her siblings are pre-teens.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, I had a distinct sense of deja-vu all over again while watching Winter’s Bone.  The story line of a child having to protect a parent and siblings in dire circumstances has been dealt with previously (e.g. The Client, featuring Susan Sarandon and the late Brad Renfro).  The atmosphere of Winter’s Bone is also similar to Deliverance, which chronicles strange and bizarre events in a remote Southern environment. Winter’s Bone even has a banjo scene recalling the semi-iconic musical episode in Deliverance.

While the central arc of the story of a daughter in search of a father to preserve hearth and home had potential, in this reviewer’s opinion this premise was never fully realized.  The plot became repetitive and to a degree, predictable.  As Ree investigates her father’s disappearance, she discovers that her Southern rural environment was more sinister than she had realized – but again, this theme has already been dealt with memorably in Deliverance.

In addition, a number of the scenes in Winter’s Bone are unnecessarily disturbing.  At one point the heroine is brutalized in front a crowd of people. At another, the 17-year old Ree cuts off the hands of a corpse. (Really, is there no level of violence to which the film industry will not stoop?)

There was some poetic cinematography in Winter’s Bone.  Anyone who has walked through a cold forest by themselves would identify with the sense of desolation and aloneness as the characters traverse the wintery landscape.  However, the sense of bleakness in atmosphere and plot was too consistent with not enough variety to sustain viewer interest.  The film is also non-too-subtly condescending to the South as the majority of characters in Winter’s Bone are either sinister, corrupt, or uncouth.

To its credit, Winter’s Bone has won a number of festival awards including the grand jury prize for drama at the recent Sundance Film Festival.  Perhaps it would be cynical to say that these awards are not surprising since many film festivals would probably favor the self-conscious darkness of the film.

While the end of Winter’s Bone was probably meant to engender a sense of triumph, this was undermined by the sense that the central character was asked to bear an unrealistic load. Perhaps it is naïve on my part, but by the final scene of Ree sitting alone with her two siblings, one could only hope that there was a helpful social worker nearby.