Two million dollars was all it took for Debra Granik to make the best film of the year, with superb performances from its young leads, and no sacrifice of atmosphere. Jennifer Lawrence stars in this tale of survival in the land of Ozark hillbillies, where the family trade is crystal meth and livestock are the only currency.
Like Precious and Fish Tank, the story revolves around the desperation of one young girl facing a life of extreme poverty and deprivation. But Ree is a different animal; she's tough and she's hopeful, even faced with the knowledge that she might lose her only home thanks to her father's jumping bail. And so she is forced on her own Odyssean quest, facing temptations and threats at every pitstop on the way to the truth.
Winter's Bone has moments of unspeakable violence, proving that sometimes the most dangerous people around you are your own blood. And no one lets Ree down more than her kin, from her bail-jumper dad to her mentally unstable mother. But they're not half as terrifying as Ree's motley crew of 'cousins,' who we meet one-by-one, each with their own brand of domestic abuse, silent recriminations, or open threats.
Without such a compelling heroine, the film might have become unrelentingly bleak, but thankfully we have Ree Dolly to root for. Jennifer Lawrence has already been snapped up by Hollywood, with a lead roles coming up in the new X-Men film. Hopefully, Winter's Bone is just at the beginning of its award run, with the Sundance prize already in the bag.