Is Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as great as everyone says? The Kentucky-born newcomer nails the accent, but the rest of her role is fairly easy. Woodrell’s book provides some wonderful lines of taciturn folk wisdom. When Ree’s famished little brother suggests asking their neighbor for food, she admonishes, “Never ask for what ought to be offered.”
Mostly, though, Lawrence only has to maintain a flat affect. We”re so used to lovely young actresses flirting their way through roles that this seems stunning, but it’s not really that hard to do. It’s a bit like Adrien Brody winning the Best Actor Oscar for staring blankly at scenes of Holocaust horror in The Pianist. Granted, Brody was aces at impassivity, but what has he done in the eight years since to justify his early acclaim?
In Winter’s Bone, Ree Dolly’s meth-making father has disappeared after making bail. She doesn”t seem to miss him much, but he put the family shack up as his bond. Ree must get him to show up for trial (where he is facing a ten-year sentence) or establish proof of his death. Otherwise, the sheriff is going to put Ree, her schizophrenic Ma, and her two younger siblings out on the highway.
Those most likely to be helping her Pa hole up from the law are his crank-dealing kinfolk down by the Missouri-Arkansas state line. On the other hand, they are also likely to have murdered him for having “stole or tole.”
Ree doggedly sets out on foot to question her kin, who gratifyingly epitomize every Scots-Irish stereotype I can recall. They”re the kind of people you don”t want in your neighborhood (but do want in your foxhole): ornery, suspicious, sullen, laconic, and menacing.
On the other hand, much as they don”t care to discuss Jessup Dolly’s fate, Ree is their blood. And she’s handling her problem like a true Dolly by taking it to clan leader Thump Milton rather than to the cops. Ree explains, “I”m bred and buttered. I”m a Dolly, mister. We settle things ourselves. We don”t go to the law.”
In fact, as she considers the growing likelihood that her father isn”t coming back, she’s less saddened than ashamed that he must have violated, as Woodrell narrates, “the remorseless blood-soaked commandments that governed lives led outside square law.”
In the end, the pretty girl turns out not to be the mere audience surrogate we expect. Instead, she’s as much of a hillbilly hardass as her wrinkled relatives.
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