Much acclaim has already been bestowed upon Debra Granik's Sundance hit Winter's Bone, a cold and gritty mystery/drama set in Missouri's Ozark Mountains.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree, a 17-year-old forced to care for her mentally ill mother and two younger siblings. That's an awful lot of pressure for a young person, but Ree isn't pushed to the point of desperation until she is informed that if her meth-cooking father doesn't appear for his court date, then their house – which he posted as bail – is going to be taken. Ree's search forces her to collide with a host of unsavory characters who would rather keep her father's disappearance a secret, but she stubbornly pushes on.
At points, Ree's whole investigation seems repetitious, moves at a very slow pace, and leads to no character development. But Lawrence soldiers through with steely conviction, and when we eventually see cracks starting to form in her stoic stance, she handles it effectively without stepping too far out of character. She anchors the film with her presence, and makes it worth watching. Another strong performance comes from John Hawkes, who plays Ree's uncle. His character actually has more of an arc than Lawrence's, shifting from nastily tight-lipped to oddly noble by the film's end, and Hawkes performs it commandingly. Granik's direction is sure of itself, painting a haunting picture of the impoverished Ozark community – although for some, the depiction of locals as squirrel-hunting, banjo-playing, possibly incestuous hillbillies may come off as too stereotypical, even if handled in the tasteful manner that it is.
Obviously, Jennifer Lawrence stands a good shot at a Lead Actress nomination if Roadside Attractions can mount a campaign, but if the Adapted Screenplay race is a weak one this year, then Granick and co-writer Anne Rosellini might also grab a nomination in the same fashion Frozen River did two years ago.
**1/2 out of ****