Winter's Bone review - The US film indus try may be the world’s most dominant, but there are still parts of America so rarely seen on cinema screens, they might as well be in Outer Mongolia.
The upstate New York of director Debra Granik’s first film Down To The Bone was one; the rural Missouri of her second is another. Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a native of the Ozark Mountains, Missouri “bread and buttered”, as she would have it.
She’s also the sole carer for her younger siblings and near-catatonic mother. So when her father skips bail, it’s up to Ree to track him down or lose the family home he put up as bond.
Like a teenage private eye, she sets off to chase down leads, grill members of the extended Dolly clan and uncover the truth, however unwelcome.
Jennifer Lawrence first came to attention playing another taciturn teen in 2008’s The Burning Plain, but this is the role that has made her hot Hollywood property. With a face as impassively beautiful as the landscape she trudges through, Ree Dolly is a heroine you won’t forget. Tenacious and stoic, she holds her own in a vernacular that’s equal parts hillbilly and hard-boiled.
A genre flick of sorts, Winter’s Bone, like Rian Johnson’s Brick, shows that alienated adolescents make great noir protagonists. Like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, Ree can trust only herself in this nefarious adult world.
Only Ree doesn’t live in a seedy metropolis, her world is a gothic rural America, where body parts emerge from swamps at night and burnt-out meth labs stand in for spooky castles. Yet for all the nods to genre, Gravik’s recipe is actually deceptively simple.
Take a character your audience will care about, add some life-threatening danger and you’ve got a tense thriller. Layer on a setting that’s so richly textured you can smell the deep-fried squirrel and you’ve got indie cinema’s latest must-see.
A down-home neo-noir that never feels mannered, Winter’s Bone is simple storytelling at its most elegant. It’s also Lawrence’s big moment – and it won’t be her last.