Winter’s Bone | A Chilling Family Drama

Young Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) shoulders responsibility for her family in Winter’s Bone.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is 17 going on 40. She lives with her family in the Missouri Ozarks, way off the beaten path beyond telephones, Internet, and all the communication we take for granted. Through the eyes of Ree Dolly, Winter’s Bone drops us into this isolated region populated by the native outlaws who cook, sell, and use methamphetamines, and whose codes of behavior might take us a while to grasp.

On her young shoulders, Ree bears the adult responsibility as head of the household for her little brother and sister and her clinically withdrawn mother, who can no longer speak or care for her family. And suddenly Ree’s father Jessup disappears after being arrested on meth charges, after he posted the family property as bail. If Jessup does not show up for court next week, the Dollys will lose their home.

Ree is determined to find her dad and save the family, and her courage and fortitude are what this film is about. Street-smart, wise, and mature beyond her years, Ree is a quiet force of nature. She is simple and direct, with sound judgment and a level head, driven by survival instincts without wasting time wishing life were different. She teaches her siblings how to shoot squirrels and skin them for dinner. When her brother is squeamish, Ree tells him there are some things he has to learn not to be afraid of. When they ask Ree why she doesn’t ask their neighbor for food, she reminds them that they shouldn’t ask for what should be offered. At the same time, Ree makes her siblings feel safe and cared for, which allows them a playful childhood that she probably never had.

Winter’s Bone is filmmaking at its finest, with superb acting, spare dialogue, and a riveting story. Director Debra Granik adapted Daniel Woodrell’s unusual novel into this feature film that garnered a lot of recognition, including the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Drama. The cast features Missouri locals as well as some credited actors that we might not recognize, including John Hawkes as Ree’s uncle, and Jennifer Lawrence, whose powerful portrayal makes this film unforgettable.

Few stories develop characters and settings as thoroughly as Winter’s Bone. We learn the ways of this mountain community through Ree, whom we understand and admire. In fact, she amazes us. We root for her as she leads us through dangerous, uncharted territory, daring to seek answers from her silent relatives and neighbors. Ree will do whatever it takes because she knows she is the only one holding her family together. In an age where our real-life and fictional heroes are weak, flawed, and compromised, Ree is the kind of protagonist we rarely see anymore. In the stark landscape of the rough-and-tough Ozark culture, Winter’s Bone gives us a true heroine and role model. Ree is brave and unwavering. She inspires hope. And most of all, she knows how to love.  A

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