Directed by Debra Granik
Winter's Bone is what source-novelist Daniel Woodrell calls "country noir": it follows a tortuous missing-person investigation, but instead of rainy city streets, its characters trod Missouri mud; crank-cookers in jeans replace gangsters in suits; and a steely 17-year-old girl stands in for the wisecracking gumshoe. But director Granik, with DP Michael McDonough, shoots sans shtick in a shaky, washed-out style, fostering a naturalism that's both Bone's forte and failing.
Jennifer Lawrence breaks through as that unsmiling teen, minding her younger siblings after momma went madly mute. Their absentee, meth-making papa faces a court date next week, and if he don't show they'll lose the house, which he put up for bond. So Ree goes a-huntin' him: she asks after daddy and gets threatened in return, ad infinitum; every third time or so, she takes a Marlowe-esque beating from a meth kingpin's foot soldiers (who double as her distant relations).
"Ree's circumstances," the director has said, "lie outside the confines of my own"—and it shows! Not that Winter's Bone feels inauthentic: its use of real-life locals and locales creates a rugged, ragged, rural backdrop for squirrel-skinning types so poor the army ain't even an option. The filmmakers Get It Right, but why? So cityfolk can gawk at How the Other Half Lives? It's the Condescension of Authenticity: Bone crosses into voyeurism and becomes a milder, white-skinned Precious in the Ozarks, a super-serious, poverty-pornographic depiction of perseverance against the absurd. As a colleague quipped post-screening, "I can see why that won the Grand Prize at Sundance."
Opens June 18