I saw Winter’s Bone, a riveting and self-assured gothic melodrama with a no-name cast, on one of the most sweltering days of this sweltering summer, and it was like air conditioning for the soul. The cold of a mountain winter infuses every frame of this movie: It’s in the burnt-out landscape and the barren trees, the hard brown earth and drifts of reddish leaves, and the raw, windscraped faces of the people, huddled in parkas and flannels and holding on for spring.
The setting is the Ozarks, somewhere in the hollows and ravines of southern Missouri. The heroine is Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a 17-year-old with a medicated, semi-comatose mother and two pre-teen siblings to watch over. The plot is True Grit meets Deliverance: a girl’s quest after the folk who may have done away with her father, set in a tangled, inbred realm where blood and tradition govern, and where 21st-century America might as well be a foreign country for all it touches on their lives.