Winter’s Bone starts off in the comfortable warmth of a small wood-fired cabin. This pocket of an intimate moment between Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) and her siblings is about to be ruptured.
A visit from the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) comes to inform Ree that her father is in trouble with the law again. Ree's father has a reputation as a meth cook and his product has lead him to jail several times. His absence suits Ree fine, she can take care of her near-catatonic mother as well as her brother and sister.
The only problem with his latest arrest is that he has put up their home as bail. If he doesn't appear for his trial, Ree and the family will lose their home. Her father's court appearance is near and he cannot be found. Ree can shoulder a lot of weight, but she needs her home to keep everyone on their feet.
If Ree wants to keep her family together she will have to navigate the dangerous Ozark terrain. The occupants of the backwoods are slavishly devoted to their kin and some of Ree's questions prove a little too probing. Teardrop (John Hawkes) could find answers to these questions, but he knows the virtue of not venturing into the affairs of others. Still, Ree won't find her father without the aid of her fearsome uncle.
At first look you would never suspect that Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes aren't natives to the Ozarks. Lawrence, until now was only known for her role in the Bill Engvall Show, so her naturalistic realization of Ree absolutely floors you. Character actor John Hawkes bends and conforms to most any role offered, but Teardrop's mix of rage and unnerving calm is absolutely frightening. Hawkes could only communicate in a glare and yet say everything that needs to be said.
Winter's Bone succeeds largely because of its little-known cast who shape-shifts into the characters onscreen and a star-making performance from a young Jennifer Lawrence.
Between Lawrence and Hawkes' riveting performances, the third most prominent character is the small town where everything unfolds. Debra Granik uses the camera as an eye into the harsh beauty of the Missouri woods. Ree treads over thin ice in her search for her father and the landscape effortlessly lends itself to the violence that lurks in her neighbor's hearts.
Ree's harrowing trials only serve to teach her an incredibly valuable lesson: those with little will do everything to keep it.
***1/2 out of ****