A simple movie can blow your mind if it’s done right. But what’s “right”? In the case of Winter’s Bone, the (so far) magnum opus of director Debra Granik, “right” is an ineffable combination of truth and sparsity. The world that Granik and co-writer Anne Rosellini depict, from a novel by Daniel Woodrell, is so grimly real that it makes even a touching contemporary story like The Kids Are All Right feel like a guilty pleasure. Lead actress Jennifer Lawrence, a kind of young, dirty blonde Juliette Lewis, takes on a role so brave that it makes it impossible to believe how young she is when she finally declares her age about halfway through the film. It’s such a knockout performance that it left some wondering why Lawrence isn’t in the running for the role of Lisbeth Salander in the American film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
What makes the film so stunning is that it doesn’t try to be. Beneath the chilling circumstances the lead character finds herself in is a chance for justice and peace, but neither horror nor its opposite are pushed on the audience. As in real life, the most moving moments are often the most subtle and unexpected. Cinematographer Michael McDonough’s desaturated lens may be the only obvious artistic device in a production that has no interest in bells and whistles––in sprucing up real life with special effects or histrionics. Winter’s Bone isn’t an invitation to be entertained, but to immerse yourself in a world that, for all its harshness, you won’t want to leave.