Ree Dolly is a teenage girl living in the Missouri Ozarks. Her family has a modest shack, a smattering of belongings and a distinct lack of money. Her father is completely absent, and her mother exists in a haze of mental solitude, as if simply shut down. Ree has two younger siblings, a brother and a sister, who she is effectively called upon to parent, seeing that they have food on the table even if it means taking a pellet gun into the woods to hunt down any small rodents unfortunate enough to be in range. Ree is constantly instructing them in self-sufficiency, just in case some misfortune rips her away, a possibility that becomes more likely when the mystery of her father’s whereabouts puts what little the family owns on the line. With limited time available to her, Ree ventures out to try and put everything right, running afoul of dangerous factions in her own extended family. Adapted from a 2006 novel, director Debra Granik works with her co-writer Anne Rosellini to develop a vivid sense of place and community in Winter’s Bone. These clans that loathe the outside influence of law operate with their own rigidly enforced set of mores and protocols, unwritten but thoroughly understood rules that Ree pushes up against while searching for her errant father. Granik palpably conveys the currents of understated intimidation that hold the whole chilling system in place. It takes strength to persevere in this community, and that’s precisely what Jennifer Lawrence brings to the lead role, exhibiting an uneasy self-assurance developed out of necessity. She faces down the challenges of life with a hard veneer because that’s what’s required, but there are the slightest tremors of worry underneath. Lawrence has a welcome naturalism, a quality shared by the other professional actors in the cast–there are excellent supporting turns by John Hawkes, Dale Dickey and Garret Dillahunt–but especially vital in her interactions with the amateurs recruited by Granik. There are several of them filling in the cast and, in a reflection of their contributions, cited in the closing credits for providing “Additional Dialogue.” When Ree talks to an army recruiter, for example, the scene’s complete lack of artifice, its rejection of dressed up dialogue in favor of the mundane truthfulness of life, heightens the film’s already considerable authenticity. This is how these sorts of conversations actually play out, each and every day, and it is hard and stark and impactful enough on its own terms. That how Winter’s Bone operates, without exception. And that’s a major reason why Debra Granik’s film is the best of the year.