Ree, a 17 year old teenager in the heavily rural Ozark region of Missouri is the sole caretaker for her two younger siblings. Faced with losing the ramshackle farm that they live on with her incapacitated mother, Ree needs to find her missing father. This sets her on a journey to discover his dark world, and it's a lot more sordid and sinister than she could imagine.
Winter's Bone is an independent film exploration of an America that few know about and even fewer experience. Redefining "rural", the film is set in an isolated, forested, and bitterly cold environment that may well be in the third world. It's a hidden, bleak landscape of poverty, crime, violence, in-breeding, and feuds that last for generations. The laws of civilization are unwelcome and stay on the periphery: residents of this world thrive or wither according to locally-defined codes of conduct.
Directed by Debra Granik from her own screenplay, Winter's Bone creates and maintains a slow, deliberate mood layering menace with humanity in the same characters. The relatives and neighbours encountered by Ree as she searches for her father are fighting their various battles for survival, with an immediately revealed outside crust thick enough to fend-off the harrowing elements but a more hidden essence that points to smoldering compassion.
Jennifer Lawrence as Ree delivers an excellent performance and provides a powerful central focus to the film, combining a strong inner core with vulnerability as she explores in more depth than she would like the world that extends outside her family's property, and uncovers ominous secrets about her father that will force her to grow up in even more of a hurry.
Winter's Bone does not attempt to do more than examine a hidden and ignored corner of America through the lens of a simple story. Within those limits, it succeeds with chilling effectiveness.
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