Three Twenty One

Frame by Frame: A Look at 25 Seconds from “Winter’s Bone”

This is probably old news to anyone who saw Winter’s Bone when it was first released in 2010 or at any point in the 5 (!) years since: it’s a powerful film.

Wandering down an internet rabbit hole, I found myself watching a clip from the film in which Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Ree Dolly, has a tense conversation with her uncle Teardrop, played by John Hawkes (whom I will now forever associate with this brilliant sketch from Inside Amy Schumer) and Victoria, played by Cinnamon Schultz, around his kitchen table. Watch the 25 seconds from where this clip begins:

“I said shut up once already with my mouth.”

Notice how casually Hawkes delivers that line? His voice is just a bit deeper than what he said prior to it. Notice how the camera follows him and does not cut away to either Ree or Victoria, allowing you to really let that line sink in, let the threat slowly reveal itself, the fear to dawn on you, and the full history of what he means to grip you. His voice and body language is calm in a way that indicates he knows Victoria understands exactly what he’s saying and he shouldn’t have to say (or do) anything else to convince her. As he walks by Victoria, you catch a glimpse of how defeated she is, even though she is frozen in place. Finally, we cut to Ree, whose expression matches ours but with a determination to keep talking, to keep pushing Teardrop for information. Her guard is up but it doesn’t make her stop.

To me, it’s the line itself that’s the most remarkable and, of course, credit should be given to the author of the novel, Daniel Woodrell, and the screenwriters, Debra Granik (also the director) and Anne Rosellini. There’s so much packed in there. Then, Granik’s decision to keep the camera on Teardrop as he casually but pointedly walks across the room. Add in Hawkes delivery and (and perhaps the cinematographer and editor as well – we don’t know who ultimately decided how to put together the sequence) and I was blown away. In fact, I have never seen the movie – I have only seen this clip and a few others. But this scene made such a mark on me, I felt compelled to gush all over it here.

Films, like all things really, are a series of decisions and it’s in those decisions that their flavor and personality come to fruition. The craftwork behind every actor’s performance, every lighting setup, every camera framing, every splice – they all add up to a rather remarkable contract between the storytellers and the audience. It’s a deal that asks, “When I speak through the screen, does the light reach you?” I say yes, wholeheartedly.

So tell me: if you’ve seen the movie, what did you think? Am I late to the party and this scene has already been dissected a million times? (If so, share the links, I want to see what others said!) Did you interpret the scene differently, particularly in context to the rest of the film? How about from those of you who read the book? Or on the flip side, if this clip is the first you’ve seen or heard of this movie, what did you think?


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