Last night I finally had the opportunity to view the movie, Winter's Bone, on a commercial television channel. I was impressed with the film adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's outstanding novel, though, as with most movies that spring from books, there were a few things lost in translation.
First the criticisms:
The Missouri Waltz is a beautiful song and its use to identify the setting as the Missouri Ozarks was clever. The song is known primarily for its connection to Missouri's only President, Harry Truman, and I am doubtful that more than a handful of real denizens of the Ozarks would be familiar with it. As a native of the Ozarks myself, I never heard it wafting through the rugged hills of home - nor did I ever hear it being played in any of the country music theaters along the strip in Branson. But it is a wonderful song, it served a purpose in the movie, and it is what it is.
Ree Dolly's two younger and very dependent siblings in the book were Sonny and Harold, a pair of rambunctious brothers. The movie transforms them to Sonny and Ashlee, a brother and sister. Obviously putting a little girl into the family adds to the sympathy factor, but I felt that it cost the movie, albeit slightly, in the area of realism.
The old, hardened hillbilly women, especially the ones who gave Ree the beating, all looked like they could be scrubbed up and become quite presentable - possibly even attractive. They were not nearly as hard core rough as the ones described by Woodrell in the book. And as for the beating, Ree came out of it looking somewhat busted up - but not nearly as crushed and destroyed as in the book - where she lost her front teeth in the encounter. Yes, the aim was for sympathy - without making poor Ree repulsive. The director apparently felt the audience could not handle repulsive.
The movie was filmed in Christian and Taney Counties (the Branson area) in Missouri, and the scenery is authentically Ozark in nature. West Plains (Howell County), the area where Woodrell set the story, is also very Ozark - but not nearly as scenic as the hills and valleys around Branson. Both areas have their share of meth cooks and crime, but Howell County has a starkness and level of poverty that goes well beyond the calendar shots surrounding Branson.
And the good points:
Jennifer Lawrence made a credible Ree, looking like she could be holed up in some backwoods hovel (which the movie made far nicer than the one depicted in the book) taking care of two younger siblings and a mother with mental disabilities - undoubtedly due to years of drugs and mistreatment. Lawrence absorbed the roughness of her character, though she would have been far more real without those pesky front teeth after the old hillbilly women beat her almost to death.
Ozark singer Marideth Sisco (from West Plains) and her fellow musicians provided a wonderful soundtrack for the film. She was also featured in the film as a singer at the birthday party. Sisco has a voice as clear and true as church bells on Sunday. Her rendition of the Missouri Waltz is a treasure.
Overall, I liked this movie - a lot. While it didn't follow the book page-by-page, Woodrell's story basically survived the transition to film. That doesn't always happen, but this time it did.
Note to Hollywood: Two of Daniel Woodrell's books have been made into films. Next time you should consider Tomato Red - Woodrell's truest account of poverty and crime in the Ozarks.