Blu-Ray Review: ‘Winter’s Bone’ Features Two of the Best Performances of 2010

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CHICAGO – Every year there’s a performance or two that truly heralds the arrival of an amazing new talent. Arguably the most impressive debut of 2010 belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, a nearly-guaranteed Oscar nominee for her searing performance in the devastating “Winter’s Bone,” recently released on Blu-ray and DVD on the eve of what is sure to be numerous year-end mentions and potential award nominations. Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0

Lawrence stars as a 17-year-old named Ree Dolly, a young woman forced to be much more mature than your average movie mallrat. Ree’s mom is mentally ill to the point that she’s essentially useless. When writer/director Debra Granik’s film opens, Ree is struggling to take care of her younger brother and sister by not only taking them to school but teaching them how to hunt and cook squirrels. Ree’s life is as rural as you can imagine with wood needed for heat and where people hunt for their own food.

Winter's Bone was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 26th, 2010
Winter’s Bone was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 26th, 2010
Photo credit: Lionsgate

Sadly, as is the case in a lot of these rural areas of the near-South, drugs have taken hold in Dolly’s world. Her whole extended family and most of her neighbors seem to be involved in the drug trade: using and cooking. Her father has done time before and was recently released on bond as he awaits a chance to do some more. The problem is that Ree hasn’t seen her father in a few weeks and when the bail bondsman comes looking for him for trial, she learns that pop put up the house and land as his collateral. If Ree can’t find him, she could lose one of the few stable things in her life, the property on which she’s essentially raising two children.

Winter's Bone was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 26th, 2010
Winter’s Bone was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 26th, 2010
Photo credit: Lionsgate

Finding her father is not as easy as you might think. The fact is that dangerous, drug-involved men can be difficult to track down. As Ree wanders from relative to relative, trying to get some trace of where her dad might be, the sense that something REAL bad could happen to her at any minute is palpable. Lawrence and Granik strike an amazing balance between the toughness of a girl who has lived more life than most people three times her age and the inherent vulnerability of the fact that she is still merely seventeen. When Ree tries to apply to the Army, thinking that she’ll get the sign-up bonus immediately and save her property and siblings, her naivete is heartbreaking.

And yet it’s Ree’s strength that is the most memorable element of “Winter’s Bone.” One of the first men she goes to in search of her father is her uncle, a man who goes by Teardrop (the insanely-good John Hawkes), a violent, sad soul who Hawkes imbues with a riveting combination of melancholy and danger. He’s the kind of guy who is scary because one can tell that he has seen enough pain in his life that he may have reached his threshold. People with little to live for can be truly terrifying and Hawkes is nomination-worthy perfect in the part.

My only reservation about “Winter’s Bone” comes courtesy of the extended supporting cast. While Lawrence and Hawkes feel completely genuine, I can’t say the same about the entire cast. There were moments where the minor characters and the background players felt forced, as if the need to create an atmosphere of “scary Southerners” was overpowering the realism. But this is a minor complaint regarding an excellent film.

Winter's Bone was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 26th, 2010
Winter’s Bone was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 26th, 2010
Photo credit: Lionsgate

The saga of Ree Dolly plays out not unlike a modern Western as rumors spread through the Dolly clan and our heroine often has to travel from house to house seeking information. If you replace the drugs with moonshine and the cars with horses, the beats of “Winter’s Bone” are not that dissimilar from a Western. Life really hasn’t changed that much in certain areas of the country.

The Blu-ray for “Winter’s Bone” is gorgeous, as the HD perfectly captures the excellent cinematography of Michael McDonough. The special features include a commentary track, a pretty generic behind-the-scenes piece, deleted scenes, an alternate opening, a theatrical trailer, and “Hardscrabble Elegy” composed and performed by Dickon Hinchliffe.

What truly separates “Winter’s Bone” and the reason that it won Best Picture and Best Screenplay at the Sundance Film Festival is the immediacy of the two central performances. Lawrence and Hawkes feel completely believable in every single scene. We never doubt Ree’s remarkable mix of both pain and strength and Teardrop is one of the most fascinating characters of the year. Both Lawrence and Hawkes will be mentioned several times in end of the year pieces (and Granik for her excellent script and direction). Jump on the bandwagon now.

“Winter’s Bone” stars Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Garret Dillahunt. It was written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini and directed by Granik. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD by Lionsgate on October 26th, 2010. It is rated R and runs 100 minutes. content director Brian Tallerico

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