As far from a Hollywood style movie as one is likely to get, this is an America far removed from coffee bars, flash lawyers and Rodeo drive.
American Missouri Orzak back country, where seventeen year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles to bring up her young brother Sonny (Isiah Stone) and sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson).
Meth cooking dad is AWOL and catatonic mum is past helping the family following traumatic events, hinted at but never explained.
Life is hard in this inhospitable place, broken down cars, houses and people litter the landscape. Humanity has all but been driven out, Ree is alone, resourceful but ultimately helpless and at the mercy of those around her.
Everyone lives on the fringes of the law, which is erratically enforced by a very thin blue line. When it does roll by, it is usually not on their side and and on occasion causes more harm than good. Ree’s father, Jessup Jolly is nowhere to be found and if he misses a pending court date, the house and land are part of the posted forfeited bail, leaving the family with nowhere to go.
If this sounds bleak, frankly it is. If you are expecting knights on white chargers and social services to sweep in and help, this is the wrong film for you. Is it depressing, well actually no, due mainly to the quality of the acting, especially from the young lead in a Oscar nominated role.
Ree is world weary, knows how to shoot a squirrel, gut it and make a casserole, whilst teaching her younger siblings the basics of survival. Sonny is not keen to get his hands dirty, get over it as there ain’t nobody coming to help, is the message given in a long American drawl.
Dad was mixed up in some bad business with even badder folk. Everyone looks pale, ill and the gene pool is perhaps not that deep in this part of the woods. Lots of lanes to nowhere and sheds to hide stuff in. Bad things happen here, although fortunately we do not get to see too much detail.
Ree gets the slimmest of help from the supporting “family” and friends who all appear as afraid and controlled as she is. Borrowing a car is a monumental task, which one assumes was paid for dearly off screen .
Not a horror film, although it could easily have been and barely a thriller. More a character study of a time and place that most of us, thankfully, will neither experience or perhaps begin to understand. Not a lot happens although a mystery is resolved, however as a slice of life we know nothing about, this is finely detailed film and appears entirely convincing.
Powerful and with some of the best screen acting seen this year, with many natural performances largely from first time actors, gently coaxed out by writer/director Debra Granik. The cinematography is plain and unfussy, suiting the subject material. Everything is broken, worn out and in need of help and from the message here, it’s unlikely to come any time soon, so best make do with what you have.
An unsentimental message to send but ultimately perhaps a realistic one
Bleak and unflinching with powerful performances and implied violence and repression of the “weaker sex”, not seen on screen but all too evident none the less.
A niche film but ultimately rewarding and with just enough hope to keep you watching.