Isolation doesn’t even begin to describe where 17-year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is raising her younger brother and sister. Her mother is mentally ill, leaving her with almost no money in the middle of the Ozarks, where everyone plays by their own rules.

Those rules are purely their own. The small segment of law enforcement doesn’t seem to interfere in much, and merely talking to someone or stepping on their property is reason enough to be shot. Oddly, there is a sense of normalcy to it all. Winter’s Bone is quiet, and the actions of its characters are portrayed as natural.

It is utterly absorbing as this story moves forward, Ree attempting to save her family’s home after her drug-addicted father put it up as collateral for his bail. He is missing, his whereabouts unknown, and anyone who does know refuses to talk or holds a shotgun near and dear to their hearts. It’s an impossibly difficult situation, the wear on Lawrence’s face as the stress becomes too much to bear more painful than the physical damage that occurs later.

Shot in Missouri, the film’s desolate, pale landscape is foreboding, generating additional tension when the film ramps up its effort. Few scenes, if any really, fail to generate the sense of fear Ree is feeling, even if her brazen, gutsy means of obtaining information is likely to get her killed.

Winter’s Bone is a film that is certainly proud of its ability to elicit genuine fear, the direction from Debra Granik keeping the camera in motion, adding to that sense of realism and in that sense, creating an air for the unexpected. It’s a shame then that the ending is so lackluster, a final, brief chapter that caps the narrative without much intensity.

It is not a finale that is to be taken lightly. No doubt an uneasy boat ride across a river at night is one of this year’s most pivotal, gut-wrenching moments. It’s what comes afterward, the ending apparently supposed to be a relief, but feels more like a cop-out. With all of the aggression on display, the general disdain these people share with each other, nothing seems to come of it. They break their own internal code, let things be, and move on with their lives, leaving the audience wanting something with teeth. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Winter’s Bone utilizes the Red One digital for its photography. This is certainly one of the better results to come from the camera, producing a natural looking film, critical to accepting the situation. The clarity of the images are stunning, Lionsgate’s AVC encode in no way hampering the “window” effect the best digital cinema can provide.

Fine detail in close is, like everything else, is believable. It carries a natural weight, facial detail glistening in the light, remaining somewhat flat elsewhere. It is certainly apparent this was done digitally, the slight smoothness definitely the first piece of evidence for its origins. Anyone familiar with how film vs digital looks will know instantaneously, but also appreciate the clarity and vivid sharpness of the forests, exteriors, and texture.

Colors are intentionally muted, saddled into a palette of whites, browns, and grays. The few other hues that do escape carry no saturation, but a realistic quality that doesn’t detract from the efforts of the filmmakers. Low light does not carry any noise along with it, keeping the images firm with no distractions. A slight bloom is added in a few scenes, the first shot of Ree washing dishes carries a distinctly hot contrast that is quickly resolved, the sequence obviously by design.

Where the Red One falters is typically black levels, as do most digital cameras. It’s no surprise that is the case here. There are no scenes where they reach full, rich depth. Scenes at night tend to carry over the lighting of the sequence, one of the involving Teardrop (John Hawkes) smashing the window of a truck taking on a brownish hue. Some inside a cattle auction are distinctly blue. There is very little true black, which in actuality adds to the desolation, the flatness of the images working for the film, not against it. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

There is little to go on when discussing this DTS-HD mix, the audio as mundane as the visuals. It’s all part of the immersion. The surrounds capture little, some light winds maybe and the cattle making noise during the auction at 51-minutes. That is as aggressive as they become.

Some brief gunfire is clean, and the currently overused word “natural,” mostly because it’s the most appropriate adjective there is for most of this disc and the film. Dialogue is rendered well, free of any concerns, volume or fidelity issues tossed to the wayside. The limited score, including some vibrant vocals, are as pure as can be. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

A commentary comes from director Debra Granik and her director of photography/producer Michael McDonough. A super making-of runs 46-minutes, detailing the shoot and how the local populace helped out. An alternate opening is separated from four deleted scenes, followed by a music video of sorts and trailer. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]

Note: Technical issues prevented any time stamps with these screen shots. It also didn’t allow the specific screens marked during the review, so these are substitutes taken during a scan through.

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