Winter’s Bone is one of the unshowiest and most true-blooded epics of Americana you’re ever likely to see—especially if you’ve seen your share of indie movies in which picturesque poverty is faked by the half-dead flickering neon of a roadside truck stop. Like Daniel Woodrell’s commanding novel from which the story is adapted, the movie is set in Missouri’s secretive Ozarks, and it was shot there as well. It sings the ballad of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a proud, poor teenager with problems too big for most adults: She’s responsible for the welfare of her two kid siblings and her mentally ill mama, and her father is on the run from the law (he cooks meth, often in concert with kin). He’s also promised the family house as collateral for a bail bond. If Ree loses the house, her family loses their scrabbly hold on the world. She won’t let that happen. Winter’s Bone follows Ree as she looks for her daddy in a community where oaths of silence are as serious as any Mob omertà.
Lawrence is the movie’s blooming discovery, a mesmerizing actor with a gaze that’s the opposite of actress-coy and a voice modulated in the low, almost monotone cadences of local ways. But the greater triumph of director and co-writer Debra Granik (who revved up Vera Farmiga’s career in Granik’s fine 2005 indie Down to the Bone) is how the filmmaker seamlessly knits her star talent into a community that existed perfectly well before the crew arrived there. Many of the vivid supporting players are non-pro locals. And the piercing music is straight from the heart, hands, and mouths of Ozark women and men with something hard-learned to say. A