Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter's Bone: Book and Movie

I reviewed Dan Woodrell's Winter's Bone in 2009. It was one of my reads of the year. At the time I wrote:

Winter’s Bone is a powerful tale, exquisitely told. Woodrell expertly immerses the reader in the rural, clannish society of the Ozarks, creating a multi-textured sense of place populated by authentic familial and social relations. And immersion is the right word; one doesn’t simply read a description of Ree’s world, one is plunged into it, living it with her, experiencing all her anxieties and frustrations. The characterization is excellent and Ree and her close and extended family are full, complex characters which radiate emotional depth and whose interactions and dialogue resonate true. Whilst the story is sombre and bleak, it also has hope, and it quickly hooks the reader in, with the narrative taut and tense, and the prose beautiful and lyrical. Indeed, one of the strengths of Woodrell’s writing is that it is so rich and yet so economical.

I quickly went off and purchased two more of Woodrell's books - The Ones You Do and Tomato Red.

At the weekend I rented Winter's Bone from the local DVD store. I'm a bit wary of watching film adaptations of books I've read because the movie invariably has a weaker narrative or the screenwriter/director has made a vague pastiche of the book changing the storyline in all kinds of ways (see my comparison of the book/movie The Ice Harvest). The film version of Winter's Bone is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. Even the style of storytelling seems to echo Woodrell's writing style. There was no attempt to jazz the film up with unnecessary violence or shoot-outs or over the top melodrama; this was crime drama with a small c, told in an under-stated, matter of fact way, concentrating on familial networks and social norms, and everyday rural life teetering on the edge. And it was compelling viewing, as the book was compelling reading. The movie has been shortlisted for four Oscars, including best film. Whether it'll manage to compete with the hype of the other contenders, I'm not sure, but I hope it's in the mix. The movie trailer can be watched here.


Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for this review of the film. I admit, I'm a fuddy-duddy purist, but I like it when movies stay faithful to the books on which they're based.

Dorte H said...

You have reminded me that this one is ALSO among the books on my TBR I must read soon. Well, I suppose it is a luxury, really, having dozens of books on the shelf you really want to read.

Donna said...

Great post, Rob. I'm also wary of watching films of books I love (and I DO love Winter's Bone. But I also loved the film too. Extremely well acted (Uncle Teardrop gave me the shivers) and very faithful. I think the fact that it was filmed in the Ozarks and used a lot of local extras helped. I hope it wins everything it's up for. And I hope Daniel Woodrell has another new book out very soon!

Maxine Clarke said...

Thanks for the comparison post, Rob. Like you and everyone I find movies of books I have read to be pale imitations or worse (changes that aren't logical) on the whole. I recently watched the second Stieg Larsson film (GWPWF) and though it was pacy enough and pretty much stuck to the plot, somewhat mechanical and TV movie like, compared with the first movie which was better (properly directed, and also cut out huge chunks of book so that it could present a more in-depth account of what was left, which works well for a film).

Having read your analysis of this film, I might well watch it as I enjoyed the book very much but was quaking a bit at what the movie might have done to it. I understand that films and books are different entities and one has to separate them in one's mind and not expect one to be too like the other, but it is hard when you've read and enjoyed a book to do this, when you see the film based on it.