Debra Granik takes us deep into the Ozark Mountains in Missouri with Winter’s Bone, where 17 year old Ree Dolly struggles to take care of her 12 and 6 year old brother and sister while her father is in jail and her mother is mentally ill. The sheriff tells her that if her father doesn’t show up for his trial, the family will lose their house as it was put down as collateral for bail. Ree then sets off on a journey to find her father, which proves to be extremely dangerous as she is dragged into a community of violent crystal meth addicted country folk, who are set on scaring her to keep her silent. Her tattoo covered wife beating uncle, Teardrop, won’t help and as she is met with closed doors from aggressive strangers she is forced into extreme actions.
The harsh rural landscape emulates Ree’s struggles in poverty and sets an eery atmosphere for the dramatic events which unfold. We are transported into a bleak reality where independence is a necessity from a young age (we witness a 6 year old girl shooting a squirrel with a hunting rifle) and where life’s horizons go as far as joining the army (providing a tempting $40,000) or being confined to domestic bliss.
Part of the feeling of authenticity from the film comes from the fact that this is a cultural reality for many people and while we are guided through banjo playing parties where people eat fried deer and have unique speech patterns (which I found often tricky to decipher) y’all get a sense that the bleak social deprivation is genuinely problematic in the deep south.
The acting was superb, especially that of Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Ree Dolly, who is rumoured for Academy nominations next year, while the film has already received a deserving win of the Grand Jury Prize from Sundance earlier this year.
Winter’s Bone is showing at Dundee Contemporary Arts until Friday.