From the outset, Winter’s Bone is grim. Many reviewers call it an “unflinching” portrayal of reality in the Ozarks, I would agree.
Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) keeps her family alive. Her mother is essentially useless, and her father splits his time between prison and cooking meth. She is raising her brother and sister, teaching them to spell, to hunt, and cook, to fend for themselves because they can count on no one but themselves. She discovers that her father put her family’s home and all their land up for his bond, but then disappeared before his trial. She must find her father and get him back before his court date, or her family will lose everything.
We get a pretty close look at life deep in the Ozarks. The effects of meth are everywhere, the economy and the people seem depressed—yet there is a streak of life, of resilience, of survival in the midst of it all. I’m not sure how much of that is fabrication or exaggeration, but it’s effective.
A strong theme of interconnectivity pervades the film. Everyone has “a bit of the same blood” in them, everyone is kin in some way. Unfortunately, that blood does not necessarily count for much; in fact, it often gets in the way, as some people are too close for comfort. Many families come to the aid of Ree and her family, though most know enough not to mess with those who Ree needs to get close to in order to find her father. She finds unexpected allies, and gets plenty hurt in her search for her father.
It’s tragic, really, as Ree has to deal with the responsibility for the care of her brother and sister thrust upon her. She contemplates joining the Army for the signing money to take care of her family, and Jennifer Lawrences plays the deep-seated conflict subtly throughout the difficult conversation she has with the Army recruiting officer who tells her that it sounds like her place is with her family, that money isn’t a good enough reason to sign her life away. Lawrence effortlessly portrays a tough-as-nails, yet still vulnerable, character. The film is bleak, and despite the hopeful, rather touching ending, the Dolly family’s troubles are far from over.
Winter’s Bone reminds me of No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood. It’s carefully and lovingly crafted, with a rich atmosphere teeming with a deep, hard culture. It’s an excellent example of Southern Gothic, which I am growing increasingly interested in.
As I see it, this film deserves the Academy Award Nominations that it has received: Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes–who plays Ree’s hard, yet ultimately redeemed uncle), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. Lawrence will give Natalie Portman a run for her money at Oscar time, though I still think Natalie Portman has it clinched for her role in Black Swan.
4.5 out of 5 stars