Winter’s Bone (2010)

A downbeat and atmospheric adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s bestseller, Winter’s Bone stars Jennifer Lawrence as a girl searching for her father in the bleak setting of the Ozark mountains.  As she risks losing her home and custody of her younger siblings, she ventures into unsafe territory and puts her own life at risk in an attempt to uncover the truth.

Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes

Director Deborah Granik keeps the mood sombre, making the winter in Missouri look particularly uninviting, all blues and greys and broken landscapes. In fact she overdoes it a bit, deliberately stacking the cards by neglecting the natural beauty of the area. Similarly, there’s one interlude of live bluegrass performance, the least you could expect in this setting, but the spare acoustic soundtrack is largely designed to unnerve the audience, lending thriller atmospherics to scenes that otherwise don’t earn them.

To reinforce this approach, the cast members have been chosen for their haggard and weather-beaten qualities. Lawrence is the exception, and is so good in the central performance that she hardly appears to be acting at all. There are a couple more familiar faces: Garrett Dillahunt plays the shifty local sheriff, and John Hawkes takes the honours with a performance that gradually wins your sympathy against the odds.

In the end it’s hard to recommend Winter’s Bone to a mainstream audience as its single-mindedness and meticulously created atmosphere spills over into a relentless downbeat mood, with only a couple of sly jokes to alleviate the grimness. If that’s your thing, then  you’ll find it rewards your patience fully.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★☆

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