Director: Debra Granik.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Garret Dillahunt.
IF you think your life is hard, check out Winter's Bone and try to put yourself in the shoes of Ree Dolly, the 17-year-old protoganist at the centre of this disquieting mystery.
Ree Dolly lives in the Ozarks (a mountainous area in Arkansas and Missouri) where she raises her younger brother and sister and cares for their invalid mother. Food is scarce, money is scarcer, and winter is setting in. Her dad is no longer around, but his presence looms large over the family - he's put their home up as his bail, and if he doesn't turn up at court in a week's time, the house will be taken away and the Dollys will be thrown "out into the field like dogs", as Ree puts it.
To save her family and her home, Ree wanders the mountains attempting to talk to her relatives and her dad's acquaintances in the hope of finding her dad.
Ree is magnificently brought to life by Lawrence, who was a worthy Oscar nominee for this thick-skinned portrayal. Her character is as resilient and determined as they come, showing plenty of backbone in the face of adversity, and she's the only likeable character in the whole film. Every male is threatening and involved in meth labs, every woman is brow-beaten and hardened by fear, and everyone adheres to a weird family code that is as intriguing as it is contradictary.
Ree's plight and her attempts to locate her dad drive the film, which slackens off in places, but its strangely engrossing and gripping stuff. Granik and Anne Rosellini's script is simple on the surface but well-layered as it follows its heroine around, occasionally revealing telling cracks in her necessary armour, helping to fill the film with a touching humanity in her frustrating struggle.
Granik also proves a dab hand with the camera, capturing the starkness of the Ozarks and Ree's situation in a free-flowing and pensive way that transfers the chill of it all on to the screen.
But this is Lawrence's film - hers is a remarkable yet restrained performance that never wavers nor fails to draw empathy for her sad plight.