An unflinching, relentlessly bleak portrayal of life in the Ozark Mountains, Winter’s Bone is a fine film, further enhanced by its superb central performances. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, whose relative youth belies her steely interior. Ree’s father is physically absent, whilst her mother who has sunk into a deep depression, is mentally absent. The seventeen-year-old Ree, in place of both her father and mother, looks after her two younger siblings, teaching them what she refers to as ‘survival’: instructing them in how to skin a squirrel and how to fire a gun.
This is a society in which the production of crystal meth is rife: Ree’s father, Jessup Dolly, is known for his involvement in its manufacture. Unbeknownst to Ree, Jessup has skipped bail and seemingly disappeared, leaving the familial home and lands up as a bond. Ree is informed by the local law enforcement that unless Jessup is found, she, her mother and her two younger siblings will find themselves homeless. In the midst of this perpetual remoteness, Ree’s only hope at a better life is the joining the Army and taking advantage of the opportunities it presents as well as the $40,000 joining fee it promises.
Ree determines to find her father, despite the dangers that her search will surely create, even her initial questioning of her father’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes) results in physical threat and a sound warning: Ree would be far better off not asking questions. Here familial ties are ever present, most of those Ree questions are related to her in some way, but often these blood-ties present more danger: crimes are kept hidden; here, these people have their own law which they comply to and abide by.
Ree herself is a rare creation, a fully developed character, whose plight the audience thoroughly empathises with. Bold, independent and thoroughly resourceful, Ree is entirely selfless; she seeks no better life for herself, but thinks only for the security of her family.
Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is flawless, subtly evoking both grim determination and youthful vulnerability perfectly. Her inclusion in the nominations for Best Actress at the Oscars is well deserved. John Hawkes as Raindrop is similarly eminently watchable; the audience’s perception of him is informed through his engagement with other characters, the fear felt by other characters tells the audience all they need to know: his is a character to be regarded with extreme trepidation.
Tightly paced, Winter’s Bone is a wonderful thriller: the pure isolation of the Ozark area and the strange oppression this isolation presents is beautifully captured. The plot may not be overly complex, and at times is fairly simplistic, but the film is nonetheless impressively engaging throughout.