Movies based on good novels rarely seem to match whatever quality made the book so good in the first place. Winter's Bone, directed by Debra Granik, is one of those rare films that live up to the novel on which it is based. While I found myself questioning some of the plot points and the sequence of events, the movie does well by Daniel Woodrell's novel.
Set in the drug-addled Missouri Ozarks, the movie follows 17-yr-old Reed Dolly as she searches for her missing father. Busted for cooking meth, Jessup Dolly put the house, in which Ree lives with her vacant mother and two younger siblings, up against his bond. If he doesn't show up for his court date, they will lose the house and land.
The film focuses more on this mystery than the book does. (Certainly the marketing--and the hideous movie poster--try to play it up.) In the book, it seems like a lost cause from the beginning. Indeed walks into situatiopns she shouldn't and finds herself in some trouble. Played by Jennifer Lawrence, Ree is steely and hard, determined and stubborn, but the acting never lets us miss the teenager she really is.
Filmed in Missouri's Christian County, the film must have caused quite a stir when the film trucks came to town and borrowed real locations, real people's homes for filming. There some gritty squalour here that should remind us how people live in this country. There are many sides to American life, and this may be one that art film audiences may not have known actually existed.
A big winner at Sundance, Winter's Bone is an excellent, realistic movie that will probably pass largely unnoticed. And it is too bad, too. I can only hope that by the time it goes to DVD, more people will have heard how good it is.