ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Winter’s Bone: Book and Film Comparison

Updated on October 28, 2020
satomko profile image

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

Debora Granik does an admirable job adapting Daniel Woodrell’s novel, but while it's a fine movie, she doesn’t manage to capture the level of grotesqueness and brutality of the source material.

Acting and Cinematic Choices

Granik’s movie does a lot correct. The cast is a real success. Jennifer Lawrence provides a strong and restrained performance as Ree Dolly, the girl struggling to raise her younger siblings, care for her invalid mother, search for her missing meth-cook father, and keep the bail bondsmen from repossessing the family’s home. Lawrence really hits all the emotional marks and is convincing in both her moments of forcefulness and vulnerability.

John Hawkes is also a qualified success as Uncle Teardrop. His portrayal accurately recreates the sense of menace that hangs around the character and affects all the other characters with which he interacts. Hawkes steals all the scenes he’s in because of the sense of danger and unpredictability he injects into every moment he’s on screen. A reasonable analogy could be Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight in that his presence is magnetic to both the other characters and the viewers.

Credit should also be given to Dale Dickey who plays a somewhat minor character named Merab, wife of the criminal leader Thump Milton. Her turns, closely following the text, come alive with the same restraint and realism that Lawrence provides Ree, but Dickey also summons the real sense of the grotesque in her scenes of violence and her final appearance in which she helps dismember a corpse. Her change is almost like something form a werewolf movie in which she transforms from a burned out, stern woman who has been active in the criminal narcotic trade for a long time into a ruthless, vengeful hag from a disturbing bit of folklore.

The cinematography of the film is also an accomplishment. A lot of details sit in the background and are left for the audience to understand, which is a refreshing change of pace from so many films that club viewers over the head, not trusting them to piece information together without extensive handholding and exposition. Similarly, a real sense of the poverty is invested in most aspects of the movie, so viewers understand the lack of material wealth is pervasive and a real burden to all the characters, even the ones involved in narcotics.

Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes in Winter's Bone
Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes in Winter's Bone

Shouldn’t He Be Missing an Ear?

For it’s many successes the film does makes a few missteps. While the acting of Hawkes channels the character of Uncle Teardrop, he doesn’t physically resemble the character. This isn’t a nitpicking problem because his name comes from a series of facial tattoos that aren’t in the movie. Nor does he have scars on his face and neck. These are important components to his presence and character, and they also help establish the tone and mood early in the novel.

This same complaint can be lodged against the handling of the setting. Woodrell carefully balances the senses of primeval beauty and mercilessness of an Ozark winter and how a hard land makes for hard people with hard ways. Instead of approaching this element with camera shots like she does with the themes of poverty, family, and, Granik focuses on making the musical traditions of the characters fill in this sense of place. This isn’t inherently a bad idea, but it does dilute the aura of cruelty and desperation. The same could be said that the winter, which is practically its own character in the novel, but it doesn’t seem to have the same presence in the film. Even though the characters are bundled up as though a blizzard is coming any moment, this feeling is undercut by the lack of significant snow, the cold inside staved off only by a single wood burning stove, or even when a lake that should be frozen is instead essentially free of ice.


The positives of the film version of Winter’s Bone ultimately outweigh the negatives, and the movie should be seen by anyone interested in seeing strong performances in a noir story of the conflict between traditions that govern crime and family. Fans of the novel, however, should be prepared for the shift in thematic emphasis and changes to some of the characters.

© 2010 Seth Tomko


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      True grit fan. 

      2 years ago

      I'd say Hawkes performance was worth 10 times over most big budget talent offers. And he does it at a basement bargain price. Also have to say, I've seen some pretty tough winter's living in Maine, and usually the coldest ones have the least amount of snow.

    • profile image

      The Truth 

      4 years ago

      While John Hawkes's performance was worthy of praise, comparing it to Heath Ledger's Joker is a bit over the top. They aren't even in the same league.

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      9 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks for sharing, Bonnie jean. In the novel the season is much more present and important; the movie downplays the impact of winter and all it brings.

    • profile image

      Bonnie jean 

      9 years ago

      The title of the novel is purposeful; WINTER is so pervasive it is itself a character, getting in Ree's way as thoroughly and viciously as the human ones. I liked the film, but it does not accurately reflect what I see in the novel.

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      9 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you, The Jet, and I hope you enjoy it.

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 

      9 years ago from The Bay

      I will definitely check this out now. I'm always down for noir-ish type stories. Props to you.

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      9 years ago from Macon, GA

      I agree about the performances, Cogerson. I'm glad they're getting some professional and critical recognition.

    • Cogerson profile image


      9 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent review....I was glad when Jennifer Lawerence and John Hawkes got Oscar favorite part in the movie is when Uncle Teardrop comes to Ree's rescue in the garage....good stuff

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      9 years ago from Macon, GA

      And thank you for reading, James.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Excellent review and comparison (though I haven't read the book). I thought the film was excellent and it took us into a slice of life that I have certainly never experienced firsthand. It was quite a trip. Thanks.

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      9 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks, Tina V. I recommend both versions, but I prefer the book.

    • TINA V profile image

      TINA V 

      9 years ago

      This seems to be an interesting movie to watch before reading the book. I’ll try to check this out. This is a good review. Keep it up!

    • jamesroy11143 profile image


      9 years ago from CA, USA

      Where can I find this movies?? I have to see it now :)

    • satomko profile imageAUTHOR

      Seth Tomko 

      9 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks for stopping by, Kaie. If you thought the movie was disturbing then the book may give you nightmares; it's more unforgiving than the movie but worth reading.

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 

      9 years ago

      I found this film disturbing............. it was extremely well done, but it really got to me none-the-less. my thoughts at the end weren't "Wow, that was great," but they were, "Wow, I'm glad I watched!"

      I may now have to read the book in order to see what she didn't catch! Thanks for this! Kaie


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)