This film has been on my list to watch for quite a while. The reviews were good and the Oscar-nominated lead role by a young Jennifer Lawrence had me intrigued. It is a bleached and gritty movie about the harsh realities of poverty and there is a realness to it that pulls you right into the world of Ree, a 17 year old eking out an existence in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. You could perhaps dub this one ‘The Real Hunger Games’.
Ree’s father Jessup, a methamphetamine producer and dealer, has disappeared, her mother is ill, both physically and mentally, and Ree looks after her two younger siblings and runs the household. This means endless work, hunting for squirrels so there is something to eat, asking for charity from neighbours and fiercely protecting her family. This precarious existence is threatened when Ree finds out that her father has put their house up for collateral for his bail. If he doesn’t show up at court in a week, they will be evicted. This begins her dogged journey to find him, bringing her up against the violence and sociopathic realities of the closed rural drug community.
At first I was overwhelmed by Ree’s seeming vulnerability as a young woman. There is menace from so many men she has to confront and although there are women of strength in this story, they live in fear of the few powerful men controlling the drug industry. It is her poverty though that really makes her vulnerable, along with those around her. Like with Robyn Davidson in Tracks, we are given the opportunity to understand Ree’s character and so the drama that builds is affecting. There is a devastating scene, you’ll recognise it when you watch the film, where we truly feel the impact of the choice Ree has made, the choice to put the needs of others above her own. This is a similar theme to that of The Hunger Games, also starring Lawrence, although the treatment in Winter’s Bone seems much more grounded in reality.
This is not an easy film to watch but it has hope and it feels ‘authentic’. Many of the smaller characters, including Ree’s siblings, are played by locals and the bleached colour palette and ordinariness of the setting makes you feel often like a fly on the wall. The only aspect that occasionally jarred for me, and perhaps this is not really fair, was my awareness every now and then of Jennifer Lawrence the person. I don’t think it was her acting, which deserved it’s Oscar nomination, but the pervasiveness of celebrity. A shame I didn’t see this film when it was first released.
Bechdel test – pass
A solid 3.5 stars