When I started to watch “Winter’s Bone,” I was worried I wasn’t going to make it through 100 minutes of poverty, violence and depression. And I was also really scared they might end up eating the horse, or one of those dogs. But I stuck with the aggressively stark look at rural life in the Ozarks and was glad I did. Not just for the honest story it told about life on the edges of society, but for the carefully calibrated performance by Jennifer Lawrence. Nothing in Jennifer’s resume would really suggest she could pull off such a feat. It’s not that she was bad before, it’s that most of her credits were intensely middling: “The Bill Engvall Show,” “Not Another High School Show,’ guest spots on “Medium.” Nothing that would scream: I’m about to earn my first Oscar nomination by the age of 20.
Yet in “Winter’s Bone” she is in nearly every scene and remains quietly riveting throughout. It’s not that her part is necessarily showy – Hailee Steinfeld’s role in “True Grit” is more of a standard-issue showcase. But it’s that she remains so level and determined. This is a woman who, despite everything the universe has thrown at her – will not be denied. She is going to find her father, dead or alive. You can’t starve it out of her. You can’t scare it out of her. You certainly can’t beat it out of her. Though, Lord, do they try. And, I don’t know about you, but I got a definite vibe from her Ree Dolly. There was just something about her walk, and the way her best friend always called her Sweetpea. After a little research I found my ping was justified, in the book there is more of an implied relationship between the two young women. But its unrealized subtext ultimately doesn’t detract from a film that is as at once inspiring as it is bleak. As hard as “Winter’s Bone” is to watch at times, it’s even harder to stop watching Jennifer. Happy weekend, all.