Winter’s Bone (15, 100 mins)
Director: Debra Granik
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
It’s a place where crime is a way of life and practically the only employment is cooking methamphetamine. So no one is willing to help Ree, generally because it could cast a view on their own activities, and anyone asking questions for whatever reason, even if they're family (and most of the people in the region are family), are not to be entertained.
It’s a harsh land populated by hard people, many of them about one step removed from banjo twanging mountain folk, some of them not even that. It’s the sort of environment that’s usually home to horrors where teen partygoers get lost in the woods and are never seen again.
But here it’s the home to a sort of detective story in a world we never get to see in detail, with those in the know living by their own twisted code of honour. Full of local authentic flavour, it harkens back to something like The Wicker Man, with its closed, secretive, self-policing community.
With its simple, straightforward dialogue and brutally convincing characters, Winter’s Bone is a stunningly effective thriller that quietly grips and builds tension masterfully, offering some of the most dramatically and emotionally impactful scenes of the year so far.
Ree is a little girl having to grow up fast and Lawrence is exceptional, vulnerable and courageous in equal measure. But in a group of mostly unknown but perfectly cast actors, special mention should go to the outstanding John Hawkes, who gives Ree’s unpredictable uncle, Teardrop, a razor sharp balance of menace, loyalty and unpredictability.
The only reason he, Lawrence and the film itself will probably not get the Oscar nominations it deserves is because it will end being very little seen, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek it out.