13. Winter's Bone (2010)
The characters in Winter's Bone live in remote areas of the Missouri Ozarks eeking out an existence in a setting that looks like something from a post-apocalyptic thriller. The locale is very real, though. I've driven through and spent time in towns and settings just like the one in this film. That familiarity compounds with the fact that it was shot on location in Forsyth, MO, which is in the southwest corner of the state. The world is consumed with poverty.
The hero of Winter's Bone is Ree Dolly, played by Jennifer Lawrence. She is feisty and strong, but also quiet and reserved. A sheriff visits her to tell her that her drug-dealing father has put up the meager family home as bond and skipped bail. If he doesn't show up in a week, Ree and her siblings will be kicked out. They have nowhere to go. Ree simply states, "I'll find him" and sets out on a journey to locate her deadbeat dad. She must navigate the tightly guarded social system of moonshiners and meth dealers in the mountains to get to him. He is likely dead, but she needs to at least find his body or lose her home.
Ree is not an action hero who swaggers and postures, looking to kick ass and take names. She is 17 years old and looking to survive. Ree is quiet, thoughtful, and, despite the bleak and corrupt environment, fosters a fragile optimism in humanity. Her kin in the area are tight-lipped and untrusting. Everywhere she turns leads to frustration, yet she trudges on. Ree is the caretaker to her two younger siblings. We assume she has raised the three of them on her own. The stoicism of Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar-nominated performance is likely what led to her casting as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. There are certainly some similar traits.
My favorite scene in the movie takes place between Ree and an Army recruiter. Ree has learned that if she enlists, she gets $40,000. Of course, it is not as simple as that. Ree sees an opportunity to take matters into her own hands and provide for her brother and sister. The kind recruiter realizes what is happening and offers some sage advice. Watch the way her faces drops ever so slightly in this scene. She looks ready to cry, but keeps it together. Her eyes tell us everything.
Winter's Bone is part of the sub-genre hillbilly noir and Ree is the ideal heroine for this story and setting. She is tough, yet innocent. She knows her way around firearmsHer dogged determination drives her to confront the danger of navigating a menacing clan of backwoods criminals who aren't exactly willing to help. How Ree's journey ends I will leave for you to discover, in case you haven't seen this gem of a picture. It is beautifully crafted, exquisitely acted, and anchored by the performance that would catapault Jennifer Lawrence into superstardom.