By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Debra Granik
STARS Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes
Memorable movie characters often pop out at us from the most unlikely of places, and the understated indie effort Winter's Bone surprises by serving up such a figure in Ree Dolly. Ree, played by Jennifer Lawrence in a breakthrough performance, is 17 years old, smarter than everyone around her, sports a lip that sometimes gets her into trouble, and takes a screen beating as impressively as anyone since Brando's Terry Malloy got clobbered in On the Waterfront.
But Ree won't back down. Living in poverty with her two younger siblings and their mentally out-to-lunch mother somewhere in Missouri's Ozark terrain, she learns that her dad has skipped bail after putting up their house for collateral. Not thrilled by the prospect of being homeless, she sets out to locate her wayward pop, running into resistance from friends and family members alike. These are dangerous, ignorant people ("I already told you to shut up once, with my mouth," one man warns his wife), and it's something of a miracle that such an environment could have produced someone as capable and resourceful as Ree.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize (as well as a screenwriting award) at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Winter's Bone, adapted by writer-director Debra Granik and co-scripter Anne Rosellini from Daniel Woodrell's novel, is suffused with pungent backwoods flavor (the film was shot on location), which adds an unsettling authenticity to Ree's quest. An assured directorial effort from Granik, as well as a desirable calling card for Lawrence, the picture offers a rare look at a region that will seem as foreign to most moviegoers as the forest moon of Endor.