‘Winter’s Bone’: The Year’s Best Western Noir Fairytale

Posted: January 7, 2011 in Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

About midway through critical favorite and likely Oscar non-winner Winter’s Bone, I realized what I liked most about it: Philip Marlowe was Red Riding Hood.

It is mildly insulting to boil down a movie that you think is legitimately Great as “It’s like [recognizable movie/genre representation] meets [incongruous movie/genre representation]!” Everyone involved worked too hard and succeeded too well for me to simplify the accomplishment to such a banal extent.

But what I do here, I do as a compliment: Winter’s Bone is a Bogart film noir, recast as a revisionist western, with twinges of a Grimm fairy tale. And it is fantastic. 

That it’s built on the weight placed on a stoic 17-year-old girl (a hypnotic Jennifer Lawrence) is maybe its most brilliant conceit. Like Brick, one of my favorite movies of the last decade, it recognizes that there’s no more oomph in watching a standard film noir hero go through the motions anymore. If Philip Marlowe tracks a missing person through a dark, unfamiliar underworld, only to get pummeled and threatened off the scent, it’s just par for the course. He earned his lumps, and we know it’s not going to stop him.

But if the girl, Ree, in desperate need to find her father – out on bond after putting their house up for collateral, and now missing – is threatened and then seriously endangered for her trouble, there’s a startling new ripple to deal with. On the one hand, she’s the detective character, so…that’s what happens. But on the other, it brings up the instinctive “GET YOUR HANDS OFF HER, SHE’S JUST A KID” protectiveness that invests an audience in a way Bogart never could.

And the creeping, gray Ozark wilderness setting adds a layer of peculiarity, a landscape that you know technically exists, but camera angles and bloodless colors make unfamiliar, alien.

Ree knows the answers are in the woods, where there are wolves who mean her harm and threaten her family. And yet still she takes the journey.

A western plot (young girl protecting the family homestead), wrapped in film noir, retold as a fairy tale for adults. That is just a movie that hits all my pleasure centers.

When my friends and I place our bets on Oscar outcomes this March, I will happily lose my money on Winter’s Bone losing the best adapted screenplay to True Grit. But I think I’m gonna recoup losses when they give John Hawkes his supporting actor award for the most fantastically terrifying black-sheep-uncle/Riding-Hood’s-huntsman of all time.

  1. Tad says:

    So are you telling me that this year’s actor Oscars are going to go to Sol Star and Harry Osborne?

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    These are indeed some interesting times we live in.

  3. Blaze Tarnen says:

    Holland, Braak –

    Events of the past two days are meaningless?

    Movies now? When sub-intellect, hate-mongering, beauty-queen-without-a-brain, hate-mongering Sarah Palin has greatly assisted in the cold-blooded MURDER of a genuinely decent public servant, wife to an astronaut, democrats, not the war-mongering, us-and-them, greed-mongering, power and control hungry freak patrol.

    Why isn’t there an article here on how La Palin had up CROSS HAIRS on this woman and others and by her hate speech had incited death threats not only against President Obama (whom she went so far on that even MCCAIN had to tell the useless incredibly stupid itch to shut it) but against his WIFE and now has succeeded in getting an already unbalanced person to murder someone.

    Can she disclaim responsibility? I don’t think so – you can’t use that kind of language and then say “Hey the person was mentally disturbed” – Yes, they were, but if you weren’t so farking gank ho to put GUNS in their hands and then fire them up with hate speech, maybe that woman, and the little girl who was born on 9/11 – not to mention all the other dead and injured would be healthy and fine.

    Why haven’t you folks said anything about this? I thought the understand was that this website said real things… I’m furious – livid. Oh I’ll blog about it, but I guess I just really assumed that there would be some word from you guys.


  4. braak says:

    Hey, come on, have you looked at this blog? It’s full of nonsense. I’ll probably write something about it, but seriously, it’s not like there’s a paucity of information out there on the situation, or a dearth of articles about the dangers of political rhetoric. I’m not going to jump into a fray like this and start writing just so I can have said something. For as much as I might say otherwise, no event is more complete just because I’ve offered my opinion on it.

  5. braak says:

    This is all tangential to the fact that I’m interviewing for a new job right now, and I tend to lean away from political posts on the site while I’m interviewing. A temporary condition, but a necessary one if I intend to make my car payments this month.

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    @Blaze: Umm. Sorry to have disappointed you for this post not being at all about a subject you wanted it to be about?

    What the hell just happened.

  7. dagocutey says:

    @Blaze: Your outrage overload is understandable, but could you please refrain from vomiting it upon anyone within striking distance? Your anger and dissappointment are justified, but SERIOUSLY displaced. (Unless they were initially inspired by The Cape, aka “The Crap”.)

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