send in the banjos.

Film Review:


One of the greatest pleasures I get from attending the cinema is when a movie can take you to a place or a culture, another world far from your own. When this is done in a convincing manner  it can be very rewarding. “Winter’s Bone” achieves this with great respect for the world it is depicting. This world is the Ozark mountains in Missouri an impoverished part of America that is rarely seen or known about. Of course ‘in-bred‘ and ‘redneck‘ will roll off your tongue to describe this world, but the human side of this story could be set in any part of society.

“Winter’s Bone” is directed by Debra Granik and she should be applauded for her compassion with the subject. The attention to detail reeks of authenticity (apparently full co-operation from Ozark families helped) and her non-judgmental approach to the people is the films greatest achievement.

At the heart of the movie is a career making and remarkable performance from newcomer Jennifer Lawrence – she plays Ree, a 17 year old who has the huge responsibility of looking after her siblings (a younger brother and sister) whilst her mother is in an unexplained comatose mental state, addicted to prescription pills. The local sheriff informs her that her father out on bond, charged with making crystal meth (the new moonshine?) has disappeared and if not found before a court appearance, they could lose their home. Dirt poor and hungry (they shoot and skin squirrels for a family meal) she heads into the woods to find out where or what has happened to her father. First stop is her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes  – another remarkable performance in the film) who has a meth habit and warns her that there is a tough bunch of ‘family’ to contend with. They refuse to give her information lest they become witnesses. So begins her odyssey to find answers. She eventually does in a true gothic horror moment that is one of Jennifer Lawrence’s finest scenes – perhaps the one that is sure to gain her an Oscar nomination.

There are many sly observations on American society that have impact. When Ree visits a local school we see some gun toting students practicing some kind of army like regime. Another scene in which she teaches her younger siblings how to shoot a gun is alarming. Also, interestingly the women seem to be the protectors in this society, and also the saviors. I also found it interesting that a banjo features towards the end of the film – is this a nod to the film “Deliverance” ?  a film that depicts (incorrectly I assume) a similar kind of people as murderous weirdos!

I highly recommend you seeing this film, another fine independent American film in the tradition of “Frozen River” and “Wendy And Lucy”. Studied performances, realistic environs, and emotional satisfaction – what more can you ask for?

The film won best film at the 2010 Sundance film festival as well as best screenplay – well deserved honours.

NB. For your information – I am a sucker for this kind of film 🙂



Filed under film review, movies

2 responses to “send in the banjos.

  1. Great Movie!! I was raised in the Missouri Ozarks area where the film was set and filmed. This is the part of the US that loves Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh (who is from Missouri) and voted for GW Bush twice. I have to say that the film was amazingly “true to life” in every detail. I would also like to say that you don’t have to be desperately hungry to hunt and eat squirrels either. It is considered very good food in the hills. I have eaten it many times and it is delicious when cooked correctly.

    I have been dismayed reading many of these reviews calling it a “fake” and/or “phony” and contrived film. I do understand that the character of Ree Dolly certainly has many wonderful and admirable qualities that seem to have developed in a vacuum. Ree Dolly needs to be that sort of character for the rest of the film to work and not simply be a documentary of the endless poverty endured in the Ozarks for generation after generation. I grew up EXACTLY in that part of Missouri and Ree’s character aside, it is EXACTLY correct in the look, the language and the behaviors there.

    I would also like to address the meth epidemic that has raced across huge sections of the rural Midwest America. I was raised in the Ozarks from 1963 until 2009 and I watched the moonshiners lose out as Sunday Blue Laws and Dry County Laws were voted down or abandoned. Then marijuana became THE big cash crop that survived and thrived for many years until “Daddy” Bush’s anti-marihuana laws poured in tons of money to local law enforcement and new laws confiscating lands forced the richer growers indoors. It was finally in the mid 1990s when you began to see meth force out ALL the remaining marihuana farmers and moonshiners. Counties began to get in meth dealing Sheriffs and the old games were OVER. In my Ozark County (Morgan) during the late 1990s a deputy sheriff’s home mysteriously exploded and then was investigated by the FBI. I watched as the marijuana became hard to find and evil meth take over.

    The people of the Ozarks have always been clannish, hostile to outsiders and proudfully ignorant and primitive in their opinions of society and politics. Those traits are nothing new or something that manifested due to meth. But the introduction of meth has struck down many good men and women who might have made the culture a tiny bit more tolerant or hopeful.

    But along with the continuing devastation of multi generational poverty and vastly inferior schools there is also a great beauty in the land and the people of the region that you can see in a short movie shot in the Ozarks at;

    or my longer version at:

    Many an unbelievably gifted musician lived and died in those hills never having recognition from anyone outside of the hills.

    I strongly urge everyone to watch this movie because it is VERY
    truthful and realistic of how parts of the US survive. It also shows a part of America that is VERY often overlooked because many are (rightfully) ashamed that this sort of 3rd world poverty exits in the US. I personally feel that the Federal US government needs to inject a LOT more funding and OVERSITE of the rural school districts in order to overcome the generations of prideful ignorance that governs the mindset of many born into that rural America culture.

    • Thank you so much for your insight into your people. i am glad that someone from the area enjoyed the movie and its aunthenticity. Fingers crossed that it may win a few oscars.

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