Thursday, April 5, 2012

Winter's Bone: Faux Realism

Brandon really liked Winter's Bone (2010) and so did most critics. You may enjoy it better if you don't read this review first.

It is a beautiful movie, with a great heroine, a decent story, well acted, emotionally affecting. So, what's the big problem? Faux realism. By that I mean, the film is intended to feel very real and raw, intended to give you a glimpse into the frightening world of meth heads in the Ozarks. But the filmmakers have never been part of that world, and they don't know what it's really like. And even though I've never been part of it, either, their guesses still strike me as way off-base.

The movie is about 17-year-old Ree, who struggles to take care of her two younger siblings and her mentally ill mother. She is forced to search for her absent, meth-cooking father lest he miss his court date and the bail bondsmen come to seize the family's home and land.

So, for one thing, the young siblings are completely unbelievable. Children who grow up in an impoverished, unstable home environment are not quiet, well-groomed, and obedient. They act out. They're desperate for attention. They often have mild cognitive impairements (real ADHD). They are not happy.

Secondly, as a writer, I know that one of the biggest challenges of crafting fiction is imagining and fleshing out different characters. It's an easy trap to make all the characters merely different aspects of oneself. And I don't know to what extent this is the fault of the director or the screenwriters, but the characters in Winter's Bone all have a kind of sameness that becomes ridiculous when you think about it.

I have no problem accepting that one girl, the heroine, would be a person of unusual inner strength who rises up to become more than what anyone could have expected, given her background. Sure, she can be a young woman of quiet determination. But if you stop and think about it, everyone in the movie is a person of quiet determination. And that's not right at all.

The impression one gets from all the meth cooking/dealing/using people whom Ree has to deal with is one of restraint and self-discipline. And I just somehow doubt that that's an accurate picture of what the world of drug addiction is really like. The film completely and utterly fails to depict the out-of-control nature of that world. (Why has the meth addict community not spoken out against this false portrayal of their ... oh ... wait ... )

So, anyway, that's my complaint. Winter's Bone seems to me a seriously sanitized, cleaned-up-beyond-recognition failure of an exposure trip. But other than that, it's a good movie.

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