A while back during a semi-anti-Moby Dick rant, I professed my love for the Daniel Woodrell novel Winter’s Bone. The story of a 17-year-old girl living in rural, cloistered Missouri follows her as she attempts to find her crank-cooking father, who, if she can’t get him to court in time, will cost them the family home he put up for bail. Then Ree would be left to care for her two younger siblings and mentally unstable mother without a roof over their heads.
Winter’s Bone is compact, pulse-pounding, a book that’s hard to read because you know even if you get a happy ending, it’s probably not going to be all that happy.
I applaud Debra Granik and those behind the screen adaptation of Winter’s Bone. They captured the poverty, the grind, the inevitability of violence that permeates the book. Jennifer Lawrence is terrific, a mix of determination and fear driving her every action. You really can watch this – a teenage girl protecting a younger sibling(s), no dad in the mix, violence around every corner, poverty and starvation the norm – and see precisely why Lawrence earned the role of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games movies. Hell, watch Winter’s Bone and you’ll wonder why they ever bothered auditioning anyone else to play the Mockingjay.
I also want to credit the filmmakers for making me re-think the book. On the page, the constant rejection by everyone around Ree seems to be simply the product of a cloistered society that relies on illegal income. Nobody wants to say anything because nobody wants to be labeled a snitch. It’s the code of Ozarks, cut and dried. In the film, it feels more personal. Ree is the daughter of a snitch, and who knows, maybe that shit’s genetic? When she is turned away time and time again by those who might help, it comes off as less about the code and more personal, a rejection of who they believe Ree is, the daughter of Jessup the dead rat. It doesn’t change the plot or outcome at all, but it adds a ripple and separates it from the novel just a hint.