If it's possible to say this in a flattering way, Winter's Bone seems like a mix between Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes and The Godfather.
Set in the Ozarks, Ree Dolly's extended family and backwoods neighbors are warped not by nuclear test radiation but by crystal meth addiction. Many rely on its risky production and trade as a source of income, which makes their relationships an organized crime family of sorts. The network of kin is loose and heated, but they clearly share their own set of moral codes — twisted and violent, but honor-bound nonetheless.
Debra Granik's award-winning film, adapted from Daniel Woodrell's novel, has the tension of a good crime drama, but it digs hard to find what people will do to survive and what principles even the most desperate folks will stand for, or at least not betray, whether out of fear or stubborn pride.
Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old forced to care for her mentally ill mother and two younger siblings. Their crystal meth-cooking father has not just been missing from their home but also skipping court dates. Ree finds out that he's put up their property as jail-bond collateral and has since gone missing.
As if shooting squirrels to make stew and begging her neighbors for help weren't humbling enough, Ree must head into the backwoods to track down her father's meth connections and kin. But getting him to a court date looks like a betrayal of family, even before considering whether she could inadvertently be drawing police to their doorsteps. Moonshining may conjure romanticized notions of off-the-grid independence and resistance to tax collectors, but the same backwoods world binging on meth is simply menacing and self-destructive.
The film ranges from gritty to brutal, but under it all is Ree's fierce determination to care for her mother and siblings, and at surprising times she finds compassion from others who have faced desperate straits. — Will Coviello