Bleak and gritty drama set in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, featuring an outstanding breakout performance by the pre-Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence that actually deserved to win an Oscar (don’t get me wrong, she was good in Silver Linings Playbook, but I always thought that her win that year was about Hollywood crowning its new big bright star more than anything else).
Lawrence is Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old girl who is effectively the caretaking grown-up in her household, which includes two much younger siblings and mother who’s gone catatonic with depression. She gets by on welfare and kindness of neighbours (and squirrel hunting), until one day the local sheriff shows up at their ramshackle property. He informs Ree that unless her no-good father, who was busted for cooking meth, shows up at next week’s court date, she and her family will lose their house which he has put up to meet his bond. Determined to save the family home, Ree begins the search for her father and stirs up secrets everyone in her community, bound by its own code of silence, would rather keep down.
In this insular world of casual violence, which looks like modern-day rural Depression, almost everyone Ree turns to for help is involved in dodgy activities and is more or less related to her, the closest being her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes). Her desperation is met with a mix of menace and reluctant empathy, as people would rather not have her ask questions yet still feel compelled to help out a blood kin. You never know whether the next person Ree meets is going to help or hurt her, and the finale, while never explicitly shown, is unbelievably cruel and gruesome. But Ree is more than strong enough to meet the challenges ahead of her, and Lawrence really brings to life her courage and her still yet fierce centre. Her heroism is the heroism of an ordinary person pushed into extreme circumstances, who goes on simply because they must – at one point, one of the women Ree visits asks her in disbelief if there isn’t a grown man around to sort out the father problem, and Ree’s simple answer is that no, there isn’t. At the same time, the movie doesn’t necessarily put Ree above her environment in Good Ree vs Horrible Rednecks sort of way; she’s very much a part of that world and the film lives among its people rather than looks down on them.