Starring Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes. Rated PG. Opens Friday, June 25, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
How do you know when things are bad? When the scary, crank-snorting uncle with the single tear tattooed beneath one eye (hence his nickname, Teardrop) turns out to be the good guy. Er, well, relatively speaking.
Watch the trailer for Winter's Bone.
And that isn't giving anything away about Winter's Bone, which plays like a breathlessly tense backwoods thriller that's somehow collided with a hauntingly poetic art film. But, as another rather chilling individual in this story warns, “Talking just causes witnesses,” so this talker will proceed accordingly with Debra Granik's riveting adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's Ozarks-noir crime novel.
The bleak rural Missouri landscape, scarred by grinding poverty and the hidden, malignant presence of methamphetamine labs, could be on the moon for how familiar yet far away it feels. And it's, uh, definitely to the dark side of the moon that 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) goes in search of her meth-cooking, bail-jumping father who's put up the family home as collateral, leaving them edging on homelessness. If you think your kin are the ones who'll help in troubled times, the drug-damaged, drug-trafficking clan that Ree reckons with while tracking Daddy will disabuse you of that notion.
Honest, this isn't a bummer or hillbilly-mad Deliverance—although when Ree walks into a banjo-jam party that feels like it's in the devil's lair, you're so busy wondering if your heart will restart that you can't enjoy the damn music. Beyond tough-ass survival story, Winter's Bone is a deep-undercover op into a crime culture twisted up in blood loyalties, and into the ferocious heart of a teenager's love for her family. Lawrence's Ree is a force of raw smarts and disconcerting fearlessness who simultaneously mesmerizes and makes you feel really wimpy. When Ree teaches her young siblings (Ashlee Thompson and Isaiah Stone) squirrel hunting in the starkly beautiful woods because the cupboards are bare, there's a subtle, tender realness. And even brutal menfolk with loaded guns are more observed than judged. That black-tear tat on Uncle Teardrop (played with harsh elegance by John Hawkes) represents something infinitely, fascinatingly human, after all.