The film awards season is upon us once again. The Golden Globes will be presented on Sunday, and the Academy Award nominations will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 25, with the presentation ceremony set for Sunday, Feb. 27. While speculation about the possible nominees runs rampant, the names of several young actresses continue to be mentioned, and one of these is Jennifer Lawrence, the star of “Winter’s Bone,” one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year.
Based upon Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel of the same name, “Winter’s Bone” is the haunting story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Lawrence), who lives in the back woods of the Ozark Mountains with her younger brother and sister and their mentally ill mother. Ree’s drug-dealing father has deserted his family to cook and sell crystal meth. As the film opens, we get a glimpse of what life is like for Ree in the dilapidated cabin she and her family call home.
Because of her mother’s deteriorated mental condition (She simply sits in a chair all day.), Ree must take care of her two siblings, and she accompanies them to school each day and quizzes them about their homework on the way. Ree has aspirations of joining the service, and while she is at the school, she watches the students who are in the school’s officers’ training program with heartbreaking envy on her face.
It’s bad enough that Ree is so short on money that she must appeal to a neighbor to feed her horse and that she is dependant on the generosity of the same name to get enough food to feed her brother, sister, and mother. But these hardships pale in comparison to what she learns when the police pay her a visit. It seems that her father was arrested for his drug dealing, and he puts the family’s house up for bail. Now if he doesn’t show up for his court date, Ree and her family will no longer have a roof over their heads.
When the cop breaks this news to Ree, she responds simply by saying, “I’ll find him.” And when he expresses doubt in her ability to do so, she says emphatically, “I said I will find him.” And the major part of the film comprises Ree’s odyssey among some extremely belligerent and dangerous people en route to searching for her father.
The film paints a frightening gothic portrait of life in the Ozarks, where the people don’t want anyone interfering with their lives and where people who violate their privacy are severely punished. Ree learns this lesson the hard way, but she is an extremely determined young girl, and she puts her own safety in jeopardy in an attempt to save her family’s house.
Lawrence’s performance in this film is nothing short of brilliant. She imbues Ree with an unshakable iron will and an indomitable inner strength that make her an incredibly appealing and admirable character. From the first moment we meet Ree in the film, we are immediately drawn to her, and her selfless and diffident fortitude elicits both our sympathy and our complete support. It is a testament to her outstanding acting ability that Lawrence is able to create such a convincing character. In an interview with Kyle Bucanan, Lawrence explained how she learned about Ree and what attracted her to the part.
“My agent Tracy called and she said, ‘I found it.’ I thought I left an earring at her house or something. ‘You found what?’ She said, ‘This is the one. I found the most amazing script with the most amazing role. Please don’t mess this up.’ No pressure! And then I read it and felt the same way. I fell in love with it, and I couldn’t audition for it fast enough. I knew that it had to be me. I know that sounds so cocky, but roles are so much like soul mates. I’m not at the place where I can pick and choose. I audition for the comedies, Disney, and everything, but it was Ree that chose me. “The Burning Plain,” “The Poker House,” those dark roles. It’s the same kind of thing. I was made for this role, and I’m not going to let anyone else do it. I flew to New York and basically forced Debra (director Debra Granik) to hire me.”
Throughout most of the film, Ree is the epitome of strength, but at one point she is so overcome with everything facing her that she appeals to her mother by saying, ““Mom, look at me. Can you please help me? This one time? Please help me this one time. I don’t know what to do.” This scene will rip your heart out, and again it the acting skill of Lawrence that makes it such a poignant moment.
Complementing Lawrence’s stellar acting are a number of fine supporting performances, the most notable of which is that turned in by John Hawkes as Teardrop, the brother of Ree’s father. He wants nothing to do will helping Ree locate his dangerous brother, and he tries to dissuade Ree from her search by telling her if she continues, she may find herself being “…et by hogs or wishing you were.”
The film also offers a disturbing look at life in the Ozarks, where people exist in almost primitive conditions, and it makes you appreciate what you have. In places this movie reminded me of “Deliverance,” and that was an incredibly disturbing film about backwoods people.
“Winter’s Bone” (I give it a nine.) deserves all the critical accolades it has received so far, and Lawrence should be a lock for an Oscar nomination as best actress. If she isn’t nominated, she’ll have a real bone to pick with the nominators.
NOTE: THIS FILM IS NOT SHOWING AT THE LOCAL THEATERS. IT IS AVAILABLE ON DVD OR ONLINE.