Winter's Bone, on the surface, is a backwoods family drama about drug culture, but it's also a good mystery thriller. There are some obvious and unnatural "dialog as character development" moments, and a few scenes inserted to show a little down home familial love and bonding which are a slight cause for pause, but the overall pace is fairly swift and they are easily forgiven, especially when the it rolls out one of the saddest, most thought-provoking endings to a film I've seen in a long time ... well, at least since Confessions. And it's John Hawkes who delivers the death blow.
The ending is not ambiguous. The intended scenario seems fairly clear, but it is open to a number of possibilities. It allows the viewer to sidestep the tragedy if they want to. It's brilliantly written, not saying as much as it says, and it sort of retroactively creates another layer of emotional depth to the film as a whole. I might have been on the fence had the ending come with less of an impact. This is a film that could be a big downer, considering its subject matter, but as written and directed by Debra Granik it clings to the hopeful side of bleak, punctuated and allowed for in the end. Such is the nature of hope.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Isaiah Stone, Ashlee Thompson, Valerie Richards