Thursday, July 15, 2010
Winter's Bone on a Hot Day
A couple of years ago my book club was choosing books for the next year, and someone suggested Missouri writer Daniel Woodrell. Born in Springfield, Woodrell was gaining attention as a crime writer setting his novels in an area he knew, the Ozarks. We chose to read his 2006 novel Winter’s Bone with a West Plains setting which was not only a crime/mystery but a portrait of the meth lifestyle experienced by many people in the rural areas of Missouri.
Winter’s Bone was a hard book to read because of the realistic portrayal of impoverished hill people who resort to the production of meth to survive—and become addicted themselves along the way. The story tells of 17-year-old Ree Dolly who must find her missing meth-cooking father in order to save the home he bonded away when he needed to get out of jail. She searches among her family members, knowing they know facts they aren’t telling. In the process she is threatened and beaten. She never gives up, seeks a solution for her family right in there in the hills, exhibiting the strength supplied to generations of hill women but that was denied to her mentally collapsing mother.
Director Debra Granik took Woodrell’s story and turned it into a film as dark and bleak, yet as strong and satisfying as the book. Her independent film is shot in Missouri, the setting of the book’s action, and it has already has won four awards including Grand Jury at Sundance. With only a smidgen of curse words, no nudity or sexual activity and no graphic special affects, Granik steps back and lets the pictures tell the story. Instead of showing the corn cob pipe and black floppy hat hillbilly, her Ozark hillbillies are driving old beat up trucks, surrounded by mangy dogs, and everyone wears over-washed (or needs a good washing) fleece. Her shots capture the kitchens, the leaf littered winter landscape, and yes the meth labs of the hills and hollers so well that a viewer practically smells the fatback grease, sweat, wood smoke, and even filth of the character’s lives.
The movie manages not to be a melodrama which it easily could be since basically the story is reminiscent of family feuds and fighting over the still and moonshine business. Only here the issue is meth production and use. With characters bearing names like Tear Drop, Thump, and Sonny, the film also echoes of something like an Ozark Goodfellas!
The film is worth seeing on a scorching summer afternoon. It is a fine and realistic portrayal of a rather ugly side of the Ozarks, but acting and cinematography is so well done and the story so well told one forgets to be horrified by the seedy details of a sub-culture.