Winter’s Bone takes place in the rugged terrain of the Ozark Mountains and the people are just as rough. Everyone drives trucks, little sedans would not fare well on those dirt roads. The most important classes at the high school seem to be ROTC drills and teen parenting 101. The story is in present day, yet there are no cell phones, iPods or laptops floating around. It looks like they’ve all been traded in for hound dogs, banjos and an ax. Ree and her family live in a small log cabin, chop and burn wood for warmth and can’t afford to buy hardly any food, so they hunt squirrels. In the summer, this setting would be gorgeous, and there could be hope for a garden, or at least the occasional rabbit. But in winter it’s just barren, harsh and cold.
Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is only seventeen, but she takes care of her two younger siblings and mother, who seems to be little more than a walking vegetable after a severe mental breakdown. Her deadbeat father is a drug dealer with a court date coming up and he has put the house up as collateral for his bail. If he doesn’t show up for court in one week the house will be gone and Ree will have no way to take care of her family. She starts searching the area, asking everyone if they know anything about where her father might be. The people are very harsh and private, only telling Ree to stay away and keep out of their business. They may be hiding something. Her uncle, known as Teardrop (John Hawkes), says that her father is probably dead, but even if that is the case she needs proof in order to keep the house. Ree keeps pushing further against all the warnings for the sake of truth and for her family but when she goes too far there will be repercussions.
Lawrence’s Oscar nominated performance as Ree is as smart and controlled as Ree has learned to be. At seventeen we don’t expect any girl to be so tough or unflinching. She is the product of rising to the circumstances around her. With her father gone and her mother withdrawn Ree is just doing what she has to do. And towards the end, what she has to do is absolutely bone chilling.
One of my favorite traits about Ree is how she is constantly trying to teach her siblings. From a spelling quiz on the walk to school or a lesson on guns, Ree is always pointing them in the right direction. She knows their parents are no help anymore and she’s putting herself in more danger the deeper she searches for their father. If anything were to happen to her, she does not want to leave them completely helpless. This makes Ree one of the most honorable young characters I’ve seen in recent film.
“I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back. I ain’t going anywhere.”
If The Academy chooses a gritty story of determined youth in a harsh climate Winter’s Bone will win Best Picture.