Director: Debra Granik

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt

Year: 2010

It’s easy to get cynical about someone who is widely agreed upon as America’s #2 sweetheart, and it’s easy to give credit to her unearthly good looks rather than her incredible talent.  And to go back for a second, just in case you didn’t know who America’s #1 sweetheart was, that would be Anna Kendrick, because, I mean, come on.  Anyway, back to JLaw.  She’s a franchise these days, gets her own moniker, could choose any film and any accommodation to her on-set trailer.  But her super-star status doesn’t diminish her raw talent, and shouldn’t make us, as audiences members, jaded plebs, forgetting that her early, pre-fame work was pretty damn good.  Case in point, Winter’s Bone, the film that launched her career and began the process of cementing Jennifer Lawrence as a household name.

Deep in the Ozarks of Missouri live a clan of Scotch-English immigrants from southern Appalachia who apparently needed more mountains to sprawl out into, more wilderness that reminded them of home.  A culture emerged there of deep-seeded individualism, domed over by a net of bloodlines that connected them as a specific people in an isolated land.  In our story, one of these families, the Dolly’s, comes upon some hard times.  The patriarch, Jessup, cooks meth, and has landed himself in trouble with the law.  A bail that includes his homestead has kept him from jail, but his recent disappearance means that his bondsman can soon collect the house and the land.  Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old high school girl, knows that her non-verbal mother and two siblings rely on her & on the house for survival, something she can’t let her MIA father threaten.  So Ree treks the woods, knocking on every door she knows, searching for her dad, a man who may very well already be dead.

Other than The Poker House, which no one saw, and The Burning Plain, which will be remembered for Kim Basinger & Charlize Theron, Winter’s Bone was Jennifer Lawrence’s first real starring role, her big chance to shine, and boy did she.  The film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay; not bad for a little movie by an amateur director starring a no-name actress.  Well, we know her name now, and this is the film that launched her.  She would of course go on to The Hunger Games, which was her vehicle, but Winter’s Bone is how she caught our attention first.  Lawrence is incredible as Ree, the perfect character, strong & afraid, mature & so very young.  The director used real townsfolk to fill out the cast, which was genius, creating an Ozark mood that can’t be beat.  It’s a simple story told starkly, with no chance to turn your head away from the brutality of the lifestyle Ree & her family live through.  Hawkes is a great supporting man, every piece of this film feels perfectly real, and you won’t forget Lawrence’s performance, the impressive feat that began it all.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆