Winter’s Bone: Book and Film Comparison
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.
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.
- Winter's Bone (2010) - IMDb
Directed by Debra Granik. With Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin Breznahan.
- Review of Winter's Bone
In the Ozarks a young woman searches for her meth-cook father who has put up their house for his bail bond only to disappear. Ree Dollys life is one of rural poverty and intense responsibility as she...
© 2010 Seth Tomko