See This Film: Winter's Bone


Looking for a thriller? A drama? What Netflix would call a “strong female lead?” If you haven’t seen Winter’s Bone, here’s one of the best characters — let alone a young, female character — to come along in years:

Debra Granik ‘s Winter’s Bone, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, has routinely been described as a “country-noir”: set in the Ozarks amidst deep – but matter-of-fact – rural poverty, it’s the story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly, who’s left in charge of her family when her father goes missing. When she learns her father has put their home up for bail, Ree has to find him – or at least prove he’s dead – which takes her deep into an underworld of secrets and meth and seriously menacing family.

It’s thoroughly entertaining and suspenseful and, while at moments the director’s insistence on authenticity has the viewer (or at least an uncharitable viewer like this one) actually searching for false notes, overall it feels complete, whole, well-drawn – not least because of the location shooting and local cast-members. I’d recommend it as a tight, tough film amidst summer’s bloated blockbusters anyway, but it’s the character of Ree that really makes it a must-see.

Jennifer Lawrence has been widely-praised for her portrayal, and rightly so. But she also had a uniquely well-drawn character to portray. Ree is the backbone of her family, the provider, the brains, the mother and caretaker, but she’s not a martyr or a saint: just a competent, tough human being. She’s also completely believable as the hero, as compelling and trustworthy as any old-school gumshoe, with the same lack of nonsense. None of this is to say that she could just as easily be a man: the vulnerability of being a young woman in a man’s world is ever-present, and adds a layer of tension to the story.

Between Ree, Hit Girl and Lisbeth Salander, it’s been a relatively encouraging summer for tough, compelling female characters – and characters, not incidentally, who anchor general-interest movies. While it’s probably optimistic to assume that this will signal any kind of larger sea change, just having them out there is a boon. And while I’m not holding out for a Ree Dolly franchise, a girl can dream – and see Winter’s Bone again.

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