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Originally published Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Winter's Bone': a teen heroine in a hardscrabble America

"Winter's Bone," Debra Granik's prizewinning adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's novel, is dominated by Jennifer Lawrence's luminous performance as a 17-year-old heroine who comes of age as she searches for her meth-cooking father.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Winter's Bone,' with Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes. Directed by Debra Granik, from a screenplay by Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell. 95 minutes. Rated R for some drug material, language and violent content. Several theaters.

Small communities have their pluses and minuses. As Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone" demonstrates, the extremes often dominate.

Poverty is the overwhelming factor in the Missouri Ozarks territory where the story takes place, but the ugly facts of life — pervasive hunger and various forms of drug addiction — are modified by neighbors who take care of each other.

When a charismatic meth cooker named Jessup turns up missing, his 17-year-old daughter, Ree, is both helped and blocked by people who may not want her to find out what's happened to him.

Do they have her best interests at heart, or are they hiding something? When it becomes obvious that Jessup has jumped bail and could lose the family home, the movie is transformed into both a whodunit and a coming-of-age tale, dominated by Jennifer Lawrence's luminous performance as the resourceful, much-tested Ree.

In the early scenes, Ree has to cope with a catatonic mother while preparing her younger siblings for the worst. As she skins a squirrel, her brother wants to know if they'll have to eat the animal's innards. "Not yet," she says.

Most meals are made up of potatoes, grease, pieces of deer and mysterious leftovers that are "better than nothing." Cash is so hard to come by that Ree tries to enlist in the Army, hoping for a $40,000 bonus that will make it possible for her to take care of the family.

In a scene that's both humiliating and darkly funny, she gets talked out of the plan by an Army recruiter who informs her that she won't be allowed to take the kids to boot camp with her.

Back on Dad's trail, Ree hooks up with his brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes), and they become a very odd kind of detective team. Clues are few, and Ree is consistently encouraged to "blow some smoke or the harder stuff" as she tries to solve the mystery.

"Winter's Bone" won a couple of Sundance Film Festival prizes earlier this year, and recently the Seattle International Film Festival audience gave Golden Space Needle awards to both Lawrence (best actress) and Granik (best director)

Granik is at her best when she's focusing on atmospheric touches (especially the homemade, folkish score) and the demanding nature of the hand-to-mouth existence of the characters. From the opening scenes, Ree is almost forced to reinvent herself and her family, and Lawrence is more than up to the challenge.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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