In light of all the Jennifer Lawrence and The Hunger Games excitement (and despite X-men Origins …that was Fassenbender’s time) I wanted to talk about the first and most impressive role I have seen her in to date. Winter’s Bone is a 2010 independent film adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name; it centers on the 17-year-old Ree Dolly, who struggles to help her family survive in a world where the final word stops with the men; everyone within a 5 mile radius is related in some way; everyone in town is knows each others business – but most of them also choose to turn a blind eye for fear of repercussions. With an outline like that You can see why it came as no surprise that Lawrence was chosen to play Katniss in The Hunger Games.
Story: Ree’s father Jessup has recently been released on bail for cooking meth – a pervasive underworld trade in the rural middle America location of the Ozarks – but he hasn’t come home since and he has a court date to attend. These are dark times with poverty ever looming, a catatonic mother and 2 siblings under the age of 12, Ree is the unduly appointed matriarch of the family in her father’s absence.
When the Bondsman reveals that Jessup put the family home down as bail, he threatens to cease the only viable possession that also ensures the family is kept together, if Jessup doesn’t return come out of hiding. So Ree takes it upon herself to find Jessup herself. She starts with her closest next-of-kin, Jessup’s older brother Teardrop and Ree’s uncle. Then onto distant family members such as the wiry Merab (Dale Dickey) who also happens to be the wife of local Don Corleone type, Thump Milton. Unsurprisingly, Ree is met with the same disappointing response: to stop looking for Jessup. Naturally she is defiant, desperate and a little naive to how deep a mess her father was embroiled in. Burnt down meth labs and whispers of Jessup feeding information to the police begin to surface and in her quest to bring him to justice Ree is subjugated to threats, kidnapping, violence and an outcome even more grim.
I categorically believe that this is such an important film. Ree is some breed of heroine. Self-sufficient, strong-willed, smart, compassionate to those close to her and weary of those around her. She is just a breath of fresh air when you have idiotic females whose only gripes in life come in the form of wanting to be bitten by their diamond skinned lover.
I hate you Bella Swann. Though this is not the time to moan about one of the most abhorrent characters in literature and film and to Women-kind, Ree carries so much more depth, its all-consuming and she’s truly in league of other important young literary Female characters such as To Kill A Mockingbird’s Scout, Jo March from Little Women and Margaret Simons from Judy Blume’s novel God, Are You There?, It’s Me Margaret.
The best scene, in my opinion comes when Ree takes her brother Sonny and sister Ashley to school. She takes a curious walk down her old hallways (presumably she has dropped out to look after her family) and at some point comes across a sign-up sheet for the Army. Taking special notice of the cash offering to soldiers who join, she assumes that if she signs up the money will be cash in hand and that she can take her family with her whilst drafted. She isn’t successful, she’s underage by a few months and the sincere Officer comes to the conclusion that she is joining for all the wrong reasons. Right there. That scene, where he explains the drafting process to Ree is when you know Jennifer Lawrence is something special. So strong is her demeanor you know she would be an A-grade soldier but she is clearly still so young and naive – therefore open to vulnerabilities that will ultimately get her in trouble. It’s heartbreaking how disappointing it all is for her, and what’s more, how quickly she picks herself up because unlike most teenagers her age, she doesn’t have the luxury or time to wallow in self-pity.
The relationship between Ree and her siblings is on point in this film and you completely believe that she is the best chance they have. The child actors are so at ease on camera in her Lawrence’s you’d think they were really related. They genuinely seem to be in awe and respect of Ree and after seeing The Hunger Games I have to wonder – is Jennifer Lawrence just really good with kids? Visually the film is striking, whenever I watch this film I really watch it. Everything is so blue and grey. It’s like someone has taken a snapshot of winter and filtered it over the whole film. It’s not like Cold Mountain…with snow everywhere, this is a horrible grim winter in a desolate small town with 100 percent population redneck and it 100 percent works. The other thing to celebrate is just how amazing John Hawkes and Dale Dickey are in this film. Granted, their scenes are sparse, but when they do appear it’s perhaps the only time Lawrence doesn’t command the screen; perhaps that’s down to age and experience more than anything.
It’s like this, the mystery of Jessup’s whereabouts are the drive for a story dealing with secrets and gruesome explanations. You can’t stop watching it because, like Ree, you’re desperate to find out what the hell is going on and why everyone is giving each other the side eye when she comes knocking. At one point you may even think you’re watching a developing Vampire story. Seriously, no one steps over the threshold of another’s home unless personally invited. Maybe that has more to do with respect or respectively not wanting to get shot (such is kind of people living in Winter’s Bone’s Ozark). Either way it’s so intense come the second act of the film that you have to see it through regardless of the inevitable grizzly outcome.