out of Five
Running time: 100
Impressively directed, superbly written and featuring an Oscar-worthy performance from Jennifer Lawrence, this is a thoroughly riveting, naturalistic thriller that exerts a fierce emotional grip.
What's it all about?
Directed by Debra Granik and based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone is set in the remote Ozark Mountain region of Missouri, where 17-year-old Ree Jolly has her hands full looking after her near-catatonic mother (Valerie Richards) and her two young siblings (Isaiah Stone and Ashlee Thompson). When the local sheriff (Garret
Dillahunt) informs her that her crank-cooking father has disappeared after putting up their property to secure his bail she realises that she has to find him before his court date or they'll lose the house.
Ree's first port of call is her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) who warns her off but won't say why. In desperation, Ree ignores Teardrop's warning and tries to question her father's drug-cooking associates (including Ronnie Hall as the sinister Thump) but in doing so she gets deeper and deeper into trouble.
Jennifer Lawrence (who played the young Charlize Theron in A Burning Plain) delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Ree, displaying staggering reserves of courage as she walks into ever-more terrifying situations in pursuit of the truth. There's also terrific support from the always-excellent John Hawkes and from Dale Dickey (My Name Is
Earl) as Merab, Thump's right-hand woman.
The script is excellent – the characters are well drawn and the story is structured like a gripping detective thriller (Woodrell specialises in so-called ‘country noir’), with Ree behaving very much like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, right down to taking vicious beatings in the name of solving the mystery.
The film is beautifully shot with powerfully atmospheric cinematography by Michael McDonough, aided by some stunning location work. Similarly, Granik's grip on the material is assured throughout, creating a fascinating portrait of a tight-lipped and fiercely protective community and generating some powerfully suspenseful sequences that build to a brilliantly chilling climax.
Winter’s Bone is a thoroughly gripping, superbly written and brilliantly acted thriller that marks director Debra Granik out as a talent to watch. Highly recommended.
Winter's Bone (15)