Reel Rumbles #35: “Animal Kingdom” vs. “Winter’s Bone”

19 May
2011

Winter’s Bone and Animal Kingdom. Both feature the dark consequences of crime and trust issues, and both are the breakout efforts of new talented directors (David MichĂ´d and Debra Granik). But the question is which one is better?

Round One: The Story

Winter’s Bone starts off in the comfortable warmth of a small wood-fired cabin. What is about to happen will warp Ree’s future. Her father cooks meth and his product has lead him to jail several times. He’s not around much and that suits Ree fine, except he put the house up as collateral for bail this time. And he can’t be found. If Ree wants to keep her family together she will have to navigate the dangerous Ozark terrain.

A teenager finds himself thrown into the criminal lifestyle when his mother overdoses. He hasn’t seen his family for a long time and as we find out more about the dealings of the Cody clan, perhaps this was for the best. His grandmother is the matriarch of perhaps the most violent armed-robbery crew in Austrailia and possesses in her arsenal the most sadistically devoted son in cinema history. Animal Kingdom is about Joshua’s decision after he unwittingly participates in the murder of two police officers. Flip his uncles and run the risk of having to hide the rest of his life, or risk incarceration and become King of his Pride.

Both scripts are compelling, but Animal Kingdom suffers from a short period of utter convolution that Winter’s Bone does not possess. This round goes to Winter’s Bone.

Winner: Winter’s Bone


Round Two: The Acting

Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes. Both received Academy Award nominations for their work and at first look you would never suspect that they aren’t natives to the Ozarks. One scene in particular Hawkes only uses a glare throughout. The mix of rage and absolutism is frightening. Lawrence was known best for her role in the Bill Engvall Show so when she absolutely stole the show it floored critics.

With the exception of Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver Animal Kingdom suffers from a lack of compelling portrayals. James Frecheville was in way over his head and it showed. Joel Edgerton had charismatic presence, but his screentime was virtually nil. Weaver was absolutely devastating as a grandmother willing to do anything to secure her place. Anything.

Despite the monstrous grandmother this round goes to the 2 Academy Award Nominees and Winter’s Bone.

Winner: Winter’s Bone


Round Three: Direction

Both of these films were the critically adored efforts of their respective directors. Both films are tight, shot meticulously and know when to racket up the tension. Granik is given the benefit of a veteran cast and Michôd has to work with a virtual unknown as his lead. For that reason alone this round goes to Animal Kingdom in a squeaker.

Winner: Animal Kingdom


Round Four: Music

So this probably isn’t common the final category is brought down to the music. Animal Kingdom’s score is minimalistic and fits the film perfectly. The score rises when necessary and hits almost unbearable spots when the viewer is digging their nails into the couch. But the highlight of the film is when Josh and his girlfriend have fallen asleep on a couch and Air Supply’s “I’m All Out of Love” is playing in the background. As the camera pans through the room Pope (Ben Mendehlson) is revealed. He’s been watching them sleep for a while now. As the music increases the camera focuses in on the demented glare of Pope. It’s a truly terrifying scene and if you didn’t tear a hole through your couch’s arm then you must not have a pulse.

The score for Winter’s Bone never really draws attention and there are no specific scenes I can recall where music made a big impression. This round also goes to Animal Kingdom.

Winner: Animal Kingdom


And the Winner Is…

So we seem to be at a crossroads. Each respective film has two wins a piece. Both films are taut and in the top ten of the year. But the question remains who is the winner? And I have to go with Winter’s Bone. Between Lawrence and Hawke’s riveting performances, the cinematography and the harrowing trials Ree has to go through, it’s too much for the Aussie crime-thriller to beat.

  • http://nevermindpopfilm.blogspot.com Fitz

     I suppose this post would have been more relevant several months ago.

  • http://nevermindpopfilm.blogspot.com Fitz

     I suppose this post would have been more relevant several months ago.