Similarly bleak in premise, Winter’s Bone likewise follows the story of a family without a father, while eldest daughter (17 year old) Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) cares for her ill mother and two younger siblings.
Set in the Ozark mountain range of Missouri, Ree is the embodiment of the capable and independent spirit of the best of its inhabitants. Her self reliance allows her to chop wood, hunt squirrel and deer, and make measured decisions regarding the well being of her family.
Ree’s father is out on bail, has not been seen and the family home is at risk if he skips his court date.
Figuring that she can only care for her family with a house to do it in, Ree sets off to locate her father where the local sheriff has failed. This leads her to the rough world of distant relatives who have had recent dealings with her father.
The mystery/thriller story line of the missing father allows writer/director Debra Granik to authentically explore these wonderfully gruff characters. Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) is a scary man who is not afraid of resorting to violent means to make his point (according to Granik he exhibits a “wiry intensity”). He also shows himself to be fiercely protective of his niece.
Ree is at one with the outdoors but also able to display affection naturally (she affectionately teases her younger siblings, “I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back”).
Granik has stocked her film with Southern actors, both established ‘stars’ and locals with “outstanding facial hair.” This lends the film a strong authenticity. The local music is strongly featured and the property used, a real home used by a local family, ensures that the detail in the film is accurate.
It would be easy for us with our privileged backgrounds to judge these people as poor however they do not think themselves impoverished in any way. They have their property, their family and their self reliance and have no need or interest in the world beyond their borders.
The pervading mood of the film is dominated by the blue lens it is shot through; the frozen mid-winter landscape and the isolation of these families. This film is totally enthralling and Ree Dolly a formidable heroine whom we can admire for her resilience and determination. Easily 4 out of 5.