Seventeen-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) cares for her two young siblings, Sonny and Ashlee, and her mentally absent mother in their Missouri Ozarks backwoods home. She is constantly teaching the kids self-sufficiency—spelling, hunting, cooking. Then, Jessup, her meth-cook/drug-dealer father, turns up missing. As an absentee father, his disappearance isn’t atypical, but no one has seen him and he’s put up their house as bond. When the bailsman announces that Ree has one week to find Jessup before the house is seized, she refuses to accept they will be left homeless. Tenacious, she faces off with extended family where the code of honor revolves around silence. The women fiercely guard their men, similar to how castles are protected and visitors are vetted to prove they are worthy to face the king. In Winter’s Bone, the king is Thump Milton (Ronnie Hall).
(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)
The set design, social commentary on poverty and glimpses at the backwoods world create suspense. The story isn’t without flaws. Jessup misstep was not his daughter’s fault. Why do they take so long to come around to helping her? Also, in this community where snitching is the ultimate betrayal, would Jessup commit this wrong? I don’t buy it. To face 10 years in the slammer is nothing to shrug at, but to go against the explicit norms upon which this clan is built would seal his fate. Desperate situations beget desperate choices, but this detail is believable as presented. Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, it would be worthwhile to see if there is more to support this plot point in the book. As an aside, I greatly enjoyed the banjos and guitar that provide a respite from the gloom.
Lawrence and John Hawkes as her uncle Teardrop are excellent. Her Ree is tough and resilient among the folks who could kill her in an instant based on her challenging their pride alone. His Teardrop is torn between his divided loyalties. By the end, Ree has covered miles of backwoods on food, been beaten and bloodied and made to participate in acts she will never forget.
Co-writer/Director: Debra Granik
Run time: 100 minutes