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Mother Courage

Winter's Bone (2010)

Sebastian Mlynarski/Roadside Attractions

Deep in the Ozarks, where it seems betrayal of your neighbor is the worst crime of all and most justice is natural justice, teenager Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) needs to find her missing father before her family and two young siblings are evicted from their home. Determined to discover what's happened to him, Ree starts asking pointed questions of her in-laws and won't take no for an answer.

"Winter's Bone" is all about the atmosphere that Ree swims through on her search; the run-down shacks she visits, the stoic menfolk she butts heads with and their wary wives who know better than to speak up. Asking her very scary uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes, as charismatic and flaky as a young Dennis Hopper) for help produces a dismissal. Asking his wife earns her a warning: "I already said shut up once with my mouth," he rumbles, in the same tone of voice he used to say "Hello."

But this is a woman's picture to the core, a story of unstoppable feminine drive where women turn out to hold the answers. Placing Ree's fierce, almost maternal, wish to protect her family at the very heart of the matter lets director Debra Granik navigate away from the stereotypes and clichés of the setting; and the RED camera is a gift to a director with her eye for detail. Shot entirely on location with no sense of creature comforts on either side of the camera, the film's rhythms become mesmerizing, especially when Ree ventures deep into nightmarish marshlands and things get psychological.

Ms. Lawrence, who was terrific in Guillermo Arriaga's "The Burning Plain," here plays as another teenager looking for the truth about her parents. In that film the search caused something horrible to happen, and her on-screen breakdown in the middle of the desert was hard to forget. Ree has a tougher hide, the kind of flinty protective mechanisms that look good on screen but don't convince unless the actor has character of his or her own lurking underneath. Ms. Lawrence has bags of character, and "Winter's Bone" is infused with the stuff.


Opened on June 11 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Debra Granik; written by Ms. Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell; director of photography, Michael McDonough; edited by Affonso Gonçalves; music by Dickon Hinchliffe; production designer, Mark White; costumes by Rebecca Hofherr; produced by Ms. Rosellini and Alix Madigan Yorkin; released by Roadside Attractions. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Jennifer Lawrence (Ree), John Hawkes (Teardrop), Kevin Breznahan (Little Arthur), Dale Dickey (Merab), Garret Dillahunt (Sheriff Baskin), Sheryl Lee (April), Lauren Sweetser (Gail) and Tate Taylor (Satterfield).


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