Loads of broken-car-and-unused-toy-littered yards and wolf print sweatshirts are an earmark of the stark reality of the desperate, poverty-stricken world in which Winter's Bone is set, but no amount of dirty, abandoned Playskool slides can make you forget that you're watching an average popcorn thriller, although maybe it's because you can feel all of the actors playing bad guys (and there are many) trying their hardest to act villainous, coming off most of the time like goons waiting for their close-up in which they get roundhouse-kicked in the face by Steven Seagal in an early-90s action flick. And oh yeah, there aren't very many thrills in Winter's Bone. I kept waiting for it to take off, but it really never does.
In the film, Ree Dolly has to find her father, a meth-head drug-dealer who put up the family house for bail. If she doesn't find him, she'll lose the house, and her brother and sister. So she spends most of her time asking neighbors to borrow their trucks in order to drive to a destination to which she could have just as easily walked. This is evidenced by the fact that nobody lends her a truck and she does walk everywhere, though one nice neighbor gives her a doobie for the road (Thanks!). So these inquiries basically amount to narrative laziness, ploys to introduce characters that will be important later on.
Winter's Bone took home some major awards at Sundance, and many of the people who see it will tell you it's a work of art, that it has something to say, or that it paints a portrait of those forgotten and left behind by society and rarely seen at the movies, but the truth is that none of these characters is anyone you haven't seen in a dark alley in a typical Hollywood thriller. The only difference here is that they're transplanted to the redneck countryside of Nowhere, Missouri and drive a twenty year-old pick-up truck instead of a ten year-old Cadillac Cutlass.
In fairness, Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Ree, is very good, but hers is the only fleshed-out, seemingly real character in the film. And the scene in which she discovers the truth about her father is also very good, but at that point the boredom of the bleak, washed-out, banjo-strumming, squirrel-hunting world in which the film is set has already closed in and suffocated any desire you have to care about what's going on.