Winter’s Bone tries to rely on a plot that fails to provide the intrigue that such a thing requires. To say that it is intermittently boring would be putting it lightly. Oh, it gets off to a good start, and it ends well, but the middle is incredibly uninteresting and lacks sufficient reason for the audience to care. But, I suppose, it does have its moments.
The plot follows 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl forced to take care of her family after her father left years prior. She’s strong-willed, independent, and stubborn. One day, a police officer comes to her door and tells her that her father put the house up for bond, and since he’s apparently gone missing, the house may be taken from the family. Ree takes it upon herself to go after him and force him to go to court. She has a week to do this.
This premise starts off interesting. She goes to different neighbors in an attempt to find clues as to where her meth-cooking father is. She’s largely unsuccessful, but that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining. It eventually gets tiring though, even with the slight drama and tension of different characters giving Ree trouble breaking up the repetition that would otherwise occur.
But this mystery eventually does become dull. Very dull, in fact. By about a third of the way through, I stopped caring whether or not Ree will find her daddy, and since, at that point, that was all there was keeping me watching, my interest started to wane. At one point, Ree declares that her father’s dead. I was perfectly happy to believe her, because it means that the film would probably almost be over. That’s not how it works though.
Eventually though, things pick back up. The mystery does get solved, and the story takes a slightly different turn. It takes another couple of dips in excitement, and never gets back to the intensity that was shown near the beginning. It ends up fizzling out into a dull lull, with nothing of much interest or excitement happening.
At least during these moments, you can focus on the acting, which is great. Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role shows unrelenting desire to save her family, while the supporting cast is not overshadowed. They provide an interesting backdrop for Lawrence, and having them act and look so unlike the typical supporting casts you’d see makes them all the more interesting.
I believe there was one scene in the entire movie where I could not look away. It involves a police officer pulling over Ree and her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes). The police officer orders Teardop out of the vehicle. He refuses, and the two have a faceoff through the side mirror of the truck. It’s intense, it’s suspenseful, and it’s also the best scene of the entire movie, and it takes place more than half way through it.
There are other scenes similar in tension to the one I just mentioned, but none of them reach the same level of brilliance. There is also a failure for there to be any haunting scenes or imagery that you would expect for there to be in a film like this. Sure, there’s one scene that attempts this, and another that might leave an impact, but on the whole, nothing really sticks.
This actually surprises me, because a lot of work goes into making Ree a likable, relatable character. I did like her, and hoped that she would be able to keep her home. I hoped that she would find her estranged father, and I hoped that everything would work out in the end. But when negative things were happening, I didn’t care. I’m not sure why this is, maybe because it never felt like she wouldn’t succeed. I’m still not really sure.
I would be remiss for not mentioning that there are some issues that the film brings up; poverty and family dynamics are the main ones. But there isn’t much that the film has to say about either. Family can be difficult to deal with, yes, and poverty sucks, but there isn’t much else beyond that, and for an independent production, you should expect more.
Winter’s Bone is not a film that particularly impressed me. It’s entertaining some of the time, but boring more often than not. It features great acting in both the lead and the supporting cast, but that didn’t save the film for me. The story just ends up burning out far too quickly, and never recapturing how well it starts out. Not terrible, but also not a film that you need to rush out to see.