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Indie jewel a profound effort

THE sober little indie gem "Winter's Bone" is a stellar alternative to the studio dreck that has given Hollywood a case of the box-office ho-hums right now.

The tale of an indomitable Ozark Mountain teen determined to hold together her family and home, "Winter's Bone" is raw, real, understated, fiercely intense and surprisingly gentle and decent amid bursts of ferocity in the rural crime culture where the story's set.

In barely 90 minutes, writer-director Debra Granik immerses the audience in a rich, almost alien trek through a cloistered backcountry that outsiders rarely see.

The detail captured in "Winter's Bone" is remarkable - rough-hewn clothing, earthy slang, roots music, gloriously bleak landscapes, how to skin and gut a squirrel for frying.

As a youth on a desperate search to learn the fate of her wayward, lawless father, Jennifer Lawrence delivers a breakout performance as stirring as those of 2009 Academy Awards nominees Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious") and Carey Mulligan ("An Education").

With a screenplay by Granik and producing partner Anne Rosellini, who crafted an extremely faithful adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's taut novel, the film casts Lawrence's Ree Dolly adrift among some very bad kinfolk in her severe corner of rural Missouri.

Stuck raising her younger brother and sister and tending to her almost catatonic mother, 17-year-old Ree learns her absent father put up the family homestead and surrounding timberlands to post bond on his latest arrest for cooking crystal meth.

Fearful boldness

Now her dad has dropped out of sight with a court date at hand, leaving the Dollys in danger of eviction.

With slow, inexorable momentum, Ree trudges the countryside, staring down distant relations in the region's criminal underbelly for answers about her father.

Each exchange Granik orchestrates is its own wonderful drama. Ree appealing in fearful boldness for help from her father's menacing, drug-abusing brute of a brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes). Ree spitefully dismissing a ruse by one of her dad's associates as he tries to throw her off the trail. Ree, wise beyond her years and growing wiser with every encounter, sizing up and cutting down the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) who locked up her father in the first place.

It's a hopeless quest from which Ree never relents.

The language and action of "Winter's Bone" are simple, the weight and meaning profound. There are no hillbillies, hicks or rubes in this backwoods tale. This is high drama filled with nobility, savagery and everything in between.

Lawrence is a quiet force of nature as Ree, and the bond the actress forms with Hawkes is both hopeful and heartbreaking.

Despite the nasty hand she's been dealt, Ree has the backbone to take it.

Hope is at the core of "Winter's Bone," as seen in the way Ree nurtures her siblings and takes care of her ailing mama.


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