Every once in a rare while a movie gets inside your head and heart, rubbing your emotions raw. The remarkable Winter’s Bone is just such a movie. Having won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, plus the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, Winter’s Bone faces the challenge of finding an audience in a blizzard of multiplex crap. This story of a dirt-poor Ozark family may just be the antidote to the designer porn of Sex and the City 2. Director Debra Granik has adapted the 2006 novel by Daniel Woodrell into a brutally honest movie about secrets that fester among families in the Missouri backwoods. In the absence of her father, who has put the family shack up as bond for a court date he failed to meet, Ree is now the caregiver for her younger brother and sister and a mother barely standing on the shaky tightrope of her sanity. It falls to Ree to find her father, way over his head in a crystal meth scam involving local characters without an ounce of sympathy. Even her dad’s junkie brother, Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in a brilliant portrayal of buried tenderness), is scared of going up against the unwritten law of the mountains.
Granik handles this volatile, borderline horrific material with unblinking ferocity and feeling. She did the same with her 2004 debut feature, Down to the Bone, with the great Vera Farmiga as a cocaine-addicted wife and mother. In Lawrence, Granik has found just the right young actress to inhabit Ree. Her performance is more than acting, it’s a gathering storm. Lawrence’s eyes are a roadmap to what’s tearing Ree apart. Her pride won’t allow her to cry or beg. “Don’t ask for what should be offered,” she tells her siblings. Winter’s Bone is unforgettable. It means to shake you, and does.