There’s a lot to like about Winter’s Bone. It feels like it takes place in the real world, not some sentimentalized Hollywood version of it, yet it’s a part of the world (the Ozark Mountains) foreign enough to most of us that it’s almost as fantastical as a Hollywood creation. The acting is amazing, especially Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes. The landscape and the sets are so beautifully filmed that they almost become a character themselves. And there’s a simple yet compelling mystery that drives the movie forward: Will Ree find her father in time to save the family house?
But what makes this movie work more than anything else is Ree, the main character. Initially I thought it was the central mystery that held my interest. But if that were the case, I could have watched Winter’s Bone once and that would have been it. As it is, I’ve watched it three times, and I could easily watch it again right now.
Take a flawed but likable character, put them in a difficult situation to begin with, and then give them a goal or challenge that will make or break them, and you’ve got me hooked. I feel for this character and all she struggles with to take care of her two younger siblings and her ineffectual mother. Yes, she’s brazen and head-strong and ultimately trapped by the same mindsets that trap that whole community in poverty and struggle, but I’m with her every step of the way.
John Hawkes continues to blow me away. Between his performance here and the one in Martha Marcy May Marlene, he’s becoming one of my favorite supporting actors. It will be interesting to see how he can do in a lead role.
If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…
One of my favorite things about this movie (besides Ree) was how you were never quite sure if someone was helping her or about to hurt her. Her alliances with other characters always seemed fragile enough to go either way. For example, take the scene towards the end when the women take her out in the canoe to help her. Are they really going to help her, or are they leading her out there to kill her? We, the audience, don’t know the answer until Ree does.
This girl is a politician in a sense, navigating a complex world of intersecting agendas and motives. And her skill at that is what gains her the respect she will need if she’s to survive and save her family.