Down To The Bare Bones

Director Debra Granik Unearths ‘Winter’s Bone’

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone

Winter’s Bone transports audiences to a stark unexplored territory in terms of contemporary film, far away from the bustling urban centers on either coast or even the stereotypically quaint “dirty” South that never strays too deep into the murk and the muck of our dark history. The film, adapted from Daniel Woodrell’s novel by director Debra Granik and producer Anne Rosellini, drops us in the Ozarks with Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), the oldest of three children, forced to find her father after he skips out on his bail bond. If he fails to appear in court, Ree, her two younger siblings and their shell of a mother will lose their home and what’s left of their pride. Begrudgingly, she is aided by Teardrop (John Hawkes), her father’s brother who has reasons of his own to keep her from finding out the truth about her father.

The development of Winter’s Bone, from novel to screen, was a journey to one of these other places beyond the familiar zip codes and the big highway exit signs. And fortunately for Granik, the author was available to serve as her first guide along the way.

“When we found out we were able to option the book, out of the gate, we were really drawn to the character of Ree as the female protagonist and we wondered how Daniel (Woodrell) imagined her and what were the details he described both of her and this place. Were they fabricated or were they notes from the world in which he was living?”

Granik secured a series of meetings with Woodrell to get a real feel for the landscape that inspired the story, which then led to a connection with “a local guide from a couple of counties over who started to help us craft an interpretation of the story and the script that we all could be comfortable with, meaning that he could vouch for us with the neighbors, to introduce us and pair us with families that would help to flesh out the fictional world.”

The Ozark community rendered here seemingly belongs to another time and place, even another country outside our harshest notions of the Wild West. Yet, for those familiar with the HBO series Deadwood, Hawkes’ presence grounds us a bit. The denizens of Winter’s Bone are kin to Deadwood’s brethren, the cousins who refused to leave for points further West during the expansion and saw no reason to change their way of living.

“Because of the physicality of that show,” Granik explains, “the notion of people being in a frontier atmosphere and being scrappy, living in a way that was raw at times was a refreshing showcase for audiences because it actually looked different than other shows and took place in such a remarkably different setting.”

Granik aims to take us to these places because she has an interest in capturing authentic experiences outside her own and optimistically believes that there is an audience out there that is willing to make the journey with her. Sometimes such cold reflections provide the warmth of the familiar.

Winter’s Bone will be shown exclusively at the Neon Movies

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T.T. Stern-Enzi at contactus@

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