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'Winter's Bone' Has 'True Grit'

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By Doug Thompson

“Winter’s Bone” is showing at the Fiesta 16 in Fayetteville and, according to the film’s official website, nowhere else in Arkansas.

It’s good. The cinematography isn’t going to take home any awards, but the movie won best picture and best screenplay at the Sundance Film Festival for good reason.

This is “True Grit” without the fantasy, a story about a girl thrown into an adult world before her time who proves to have more strength and sense than just about any of the adults.

The best description of it I’ve heard comes from Kenneth Turran, film critic for the Los Angeles Times, who called it “country noir.” The most perceptive comment I’ve heard about it is that you don’t now where the local people used in roles stop and the professional actors begin. New Yorker magazine makes this insight: “Meth is a character in the film, creating paranoia and corruption everywhere.”

But the essence of this movie and its attraction is caught by famous critic Roger Ebert, whose review begins with this: “The movie heroes who affect me most are not extroverted. They don’t strut, speechify and lead armies. They have no superpowers.

They are ordinary people who are faced with a need and rise to the occasion. Ree Dolly is such a hero.”

“Winter’s Bone” is about Ree Dolly, who lives in rural southwest Missouri and takes care of her younger brother and sister because nobody else does. She’s a 17-year-old who’s not just self-reliant but able to carry her family while dad’s away cooking meth and mom’s a vegetable. She is not to be pitied, however.

Then she finds out dad put up the family home for his bail and skipped. She has to find him or her family goes homeless.

There are no “They don’t know they’re dead” or “The stuff that dreams are made of” plot twists in this movie. This one turns out exactly as you can expect something like this to turn out — and that’s this movie’s great strength.

There are times when the way to go is both obvious and hard to take, when reality must not only be faced but faced down. “Winter’s Bone” makes you believe Ree Dolly can do it, and feel for her because what she does and suffers is so clearly necessary. The law’s no help, and that’s just a fact.

This is not a movie for the squeamish or the seekers of Hollywood endings. It’s a movie based on the strength of its performances in roles that are demanding. Even the kids can act in this one.

“Winter’s Bone” has an impressive 94 percent “fresh” at the “Rotten Tomatoes” website and a 93 percent from the top critics, and there are 27 top critic reviews posted there. Of the two critics who didn’t like it, one is notorious for wanting to stick out and be different.

For instance, he was one of only 12 percent of reviewers who gave a positive review to the absurd “Jonah Hex.” Anybody who says he likes “Jonah Hex” and doesn’t appreciate “Winter’s Bone” is no one to be taken seriously.

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