Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:
Debra Granik’s blend of low-budget regional realism and crime thriller (adapted from the novel by Daniel Woodrell) is an absolute knockout, for me the narrative film of the festival so far. Young Jennifer Lawrence is sensational as Ree, fierce teenage scion of an Ozark family of bootleggers, outlaws and meth-cookers…
Granik captures the details of life in the ruined and beautiful backwoods villages of Missouri in thoroughly convincing, documentary-like detail, but there’s not much meandering or contemplation. This is a woman who knows how to direct a damn movie; “Winter’s Bone” builds to an ominous, almost breathless tension, every moment pregnant with violence and disaster.
John Hawkes adds a powerful performance as her wiry, speed-freak Uncle Teardrop, who virtually oozes menace but is Ree’s closest capable relative and her only source of succor. Channeling both urban myths (“The Sopranos”) and rural ones (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”), Granik reveals herself as a lean and forceful tale-spinner, as courageous in her own way as the indomitable Ree.
Daniel Fienberg, Hitfix:
“Winter’s Bone” is the best film I’ve seen this Festival and also one of the best films I’ve seen in the past year, a drama I appreciated more as I became increasingly immersed in its unique world…
“Winter’s Bone” joins a long line of independent-minded regional American thrillers and I’d put it in a category with genre classics like Carl Franklin’s “One False Move” or James Foley’s “At Close Range” or something more recent like Courtney Hunt’s “Frozen River.” That’s good company to keep.
Appearing in every scene, [Jennifer] Lawrence gives a breakout performance which is — in a very different way, obviously — as revelatory as Carey Mulligan’s Sundance arrival last year. In many ways, Lawrence’s performance is even more surprising than Mulligan’s, because was only on my radar as the tarty teen daughter on “The Bill Engvall Show,” which is about as far as you can get from anchoring an intense, moody drama like “Winter’s Bone.”
…Granik and cinematographer Michael McDonough create a world of digital grays and browns that mirror the beaten-down characters, while Granik and editor Affonso Gon√ßalves start the film with slow-moving atmospherics and build to some tension and shocks by the end. And adding to creation of the environment is Dickon Hinchliffe’s score, featuring more than a little banjo twang.
…All I can say is that my respect for “Winter’s Bone” grew with every minute, culminating in an ending that will frustrate some viewers, but that I found absolutely perfect.