This site does not represent the views of

Bear with us while we get this organized. This site does not represent the views of Send submissions to Send tips to if they are not posted there, wait a while & send them to Take care, Stay Awesome.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monster Movie Club: Winter's Bone

The concept of “drug culture” has some instant and fairly specific connotations for most Americans. Due to the enormous media presence of hip-hop music and shows like The Wire, the look, lingo and social structure of urban drug dealing are an almost inseparable part of our society today. While we may try to frame trafficking in the context of crack's tragic toll on the inner city and the brutality of street life, there in also undeniably an element of glamor to “the game”, with some of the biggest stars in music having grown up slinging on the corners and now singing about it in chart topping hits. Even David Simon's arch-villans drive Escalades, have any woman they want, and are general bad-asses.
Faces of Meth: John Hawkes
All that to say, nobody has ever even tried putting a sexy face to meth. And Winter's Bone certainly doesn't attempt to start any new trend in that direction. Not unlike The Wire, however, we're shown a community that is rotten to the core. The drugs don't just consume the lives of it's users, but are a source of violence, mistrust and inhumanity in every facet of life. The people may pay lip-service to idea of “family”, but at the end of the day all they really want is to stay clear of the Law, no matter who they have to hurt.
Struggling to come up with funny captions for this movie...
I have some experience living near the Ozark area, and it can be an incredibly scenic place, especially in the Fall when the colors have just changed. The endless acres of dead trees or Winter, though, are a perfect backdrop for the isolating poverty and depravity the film depicts. There is always a risk with this kind of film to veer into what some have termed “poverty porn.” I haven't seen Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, but I know it struck many critics as manipulative and pandering in this respect. While Winter's Bone could certainly be labeled “unflinching” (in all its squirrel gutting glory), it's a film that respects its protagonists and the culture they come from.
Wild squirrel, not that pre-packaged stuff you buy in stores.
Whether it's Murdaland or Missouri, poverty and drugs plague every corner of America. Winter's Bone is a gripping look into one lesser-exposed area of this national tragedy and the dignity that can still rise from those circumstances.


  1. This is me baiting Dear to emerge from the California sunshine and fight with me about this again, but I was really unimpressed by this movie. I'm from New Hampshire, so, uh, I've met poor violent people before. They're assholes, I knew that already! I don't understand the critical praise for the culture represented here. For one thing it's not as specific as people say, and for another, it's represented so vaguely!

    Maybe I was expecting "The Wire with White People" to paraphrase Diplo, but this movie didn't show me anything I didn't already know from seeing most of the Focus Features catalog or whatever. It was sort of visually compelling (though increasingly less so as it goes on) and the acting and the accents were great (though increasingly less so as it goes on). It was not detailed or particularly dense. And here's the plot, more or less:

    "No, we don't tell you where your dad is. No, we won't tell you where your dad is. Okay, we'll tell you." THE END.

    I greet this movie with an unimpressed shrug. So come at me, bro.

  2. Stu: Your write up is pretty much what I would have written, but with less typos & foul language. I was convinced this was going to be The Wonderful Whites of West Virginia meets Precious(which I've not watched, but seems to me like condescending Pity Party USA)so I put off seeing it until a friend forced me to watch it. I fucking loved it; I thought it was realistic and beautifully made. The characters were treated with respect. A- on my book.

    Zac: I do agree with you about the final confrontation. While I do find it realistic-and kudos for not making it a psychee!!! out ending- it does come of in passing. I think The Wire would have thrown a couple of scenes showing the dealers getting pressure from the rest of the community as opposed to just them saying "we are tired of people talking" and such. I don't know maybe they decided to not film those scenes or maybe they were not written at all. Either way I think it was a pretty small blemish in an otherwise awesome film.

  3. Oh man, Zac, sorry I didn't come out and argue with you. Chris and Snoop and Cheese didn't even tell me you were doing this. MY NAME IS MY NAME.

    No, just: I wouldn't say this film failed or was disappointing because it wasn't like The Wire. It's a totally different sort of project. It's not supposed to be a detailed exploration of the economic realities of the Ozarkian poor. It's a pretty straightforward story about a young woman trying to keep her family's life just this side of livable. To me, it was a quiet, self-contained story, told well, directed well, acted beautifully. It didn't need to be more than that.

    That said, I haven't read many (or maybe any?) reviews of Winter's Bone, but I think I can understand feeling backlashy toward excessive hype of the movie. I have definitely seen films, liked them, and then grown to dislike them because I felt like the critical response was totally disproportionate and unearned. See: The Social Network.

    WHAT, ZAC? COME AT ME. You want it to be this way, but it's the other way. The Social Network is only all right and that is all it is.


  4. Also, in my mini-review of Winter's Bone from last year, I did actually have one significant objection to the movie: the main character seemed to lack flaws.


  5. I only ever experienced the backlash against The Social Network and then the (more recent) backlash against the backlash. The first wave of hype was too short.

    My objection was not REALLY that it wasn't like The Wire. I did not (really) expect it to be the wire. I mean, it was Diplo and Questlove saying this.

    My objection was that EVERYTHING, from the characters to the cinematography to everything else was something I felt like I'd seen before. This movie did not advance filmmaking in any way, or offer anything distinct. The same cannot be said of The Social Network, which, like Inception, had a genuinely different FEEL than most movies. They FELT different. Does that make sense? I don't know how to articulate it otherwise.

    Sure, I have defended the likes of Shutter Island for being a particularly well-made version of an old story we've seen before, and I GUESS Winter's Bone is a well made entry into the "mostly boring quiet plotless indie flick" cannon, but I don't even like that cannon in the first place, you know? I always THINK I am going to like it, and I see dozens of these slight indie flicks, but only a few of them really register much of anything with me.


  6. It definitely makes sense to say that one movie FELT different than most movies. I get that. But it is, of course, totally totes completely subjective (uh, like all opinions? Because we are discussing opinions? Yeah, I know). To me, Winter's Bone felt more special than The Social Network did. Neither of them really blew my head off, though.

    I'll admit, I do often like quiet indie flicks, so. And I ain't gonna argue about J. Timb being the modern Sinatra. Okay? Maybe? I didn't even like the O.G. Sinatra. WHAT NOW, ZAC?

  7. HOW DO YOU NOT LIKE "THE VOICE"? I mean, even on some basic Americana level? Like, maybe you don't like Bruce Springsteen but you gotta have respect for his awesome AMERICANOCITY.

    And really, I guess I should appreciate Winter's Bone for being like, a movie representative of America at this place in time. And MAYBE it does that better than the other quiet indie flicks it is just another retread of. MAYBE it will be historically important. But so will THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

    (I just watched a documentary called AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE--on Netflix Instant--that was really great at presenting the history of Grindhouse movies in the context of American history. I mean, that was ALL it did, it literally did NOTHING ELSE, it was a curiously absolute documentary but the point was: movies can be important in a historical sense but in no other sense? I think that is the point.)

    I often THINK I like quiet indie movies, but I like them less than I expect to.

  8. My friend Lauren, while cleaning out an old relative's attic, found a mammy doll. She was staring at it with horror when her aunt walked in and said, "Isn't that something? It's a real piece of Americana." I say this not to suggest that Sinatra was racist by some weird vague association but rather because this is what the word "Americana" now makes me think of, 100% of the time. My friends and I have taken to calling all artifacts of racism "real pieces of Americana." JUST SHARING.

    I doubt that Winter's Bone will be historically important. I kind of think The Social Network won't be either, that ultimately it will be seen as "a movie about 2.0 people made by 1.0 people," as Zadie Smith says. But what the fuck do I know--I didn't think anybody would go see Avatar, because I thought the trailer looked amateurish and desperate. THE POINT IS I know nothing.

    This argument might be less satisfying than you were expecting, and if it is, I'm sorry, but I wasn't really THAT into Winter's Bone, so it's hard to defend it with real vigor. I mean, I liked it. I did. But I didn't think it was amazing or the best movie that I saw last year, and I didn't even see that many movies I really liked last year. 2009, on the other hand...