In a desolate rural area in the Ozark Mountains, a 17-year-old girl must harrow her way through a dangerous network of family friends and acquaintances in order to seek the truth about her druglord father. It sounds more thrilling than it actually comes off as in the film, but the story of Winter’s Bone is admirable, with a very dark and homely feel.
Based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell and written and directed by Debra Granik, the film follows Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman who cares for her younger brother and sister in their impoverished rural household. Their mother is ill and their father is a fugitive, and that fugitive father has put his entire family in danger by putting their house and land up as his bail bond. To protect the nest, Ree must track him down. But the people she must connect with, including her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), pose unsettling harm to her along the way, and she faces even greater challenges when she finds out where her father has really ended up.
Breakout star Lawrence not only delivers a fine performance, but the character she creates makes for the best aspect of Winter’s Bone. Having to take her entire family under her wing while having to endure the threats of other family members is unfathomable, and Lawrence’s portrayal of Ree as a strong, resilient, and mature teenager living in the wilderness and fighting for “her” children defines a new kind of leading female in film. Supporting actor Hawkes is also a key ingredient in the film with his menacing and complex role as Teardrop.
But despite gorgeous cinematography, suspenseful and emotionally gripping moments, and a sympathetic connection to and a surprising adoration for Ree, the film is very slow, potentially straight-up boring, and can leave one feeling as cold as winter. Winter’s Bone is a meaningful movie with its emphasis on surviving with family values, and it somewhat serves as a peek into the lives of people who have may it harder than us. But without the believability set forth by the actors and some average shock value for this small thriller, it’d be nothing short of icy.
OVERALL SCORE: 6.5/10