Ree is not your average high school student. With her mother semi-catatonic and her father in prison, she’s the one who cares for her mom and her younger siblings. But resources are scarce and times are hard – Ree (a young Jennifer Lawrence) is used to making do, but there’s very little you can make with nothing, and the doing’s getting thin. So things aren’t great and that’s BEFORE the law comes knocking on her door. Her father’s been released but is MIA and of course he’s put up their house and the little they own as bond. If he doesn’t show up to court, they’re out on the streets. And I don’t even begin to know what that means in the middle of rural, frigid, hostile Ozark Mountain.
So Ree takes it upon herself to go looking for him. The neighbours are vaguely threatening, heck the landscape is vaguely threatening, but her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) is outwardly threatening, and let’s take a moment to remember that it’s his SEVENTEEN year old niece we’re talking about. Everyone’s a little nervous about the specter of her father and nobody’s above slitting the throat of a teenage girl if it means upholding the code of silence that seems to permeate local culture.
Jennifer Lawrence was originally turned down for the role for being “too pretty.” She showed up unbidden to the next audition looking decidedly less so and won the part for her chutzpah. Most of her costars, however, were real locals with no prior acting experience. The costume designer exchanged new clothes for the locals’ own old pieces, and that’s what was worn during production. Shooting on location in Missouri, Lawrence got her hands dirty for the part, learning to skin squirrels and chop wood and shoot a gun. She received an Oscar nomination for her trouble (age 20 at the time, she was then the 2nd youngest to receive one). So did John Hawkes.
Ree seems to have sprung up out of nowhere, espousing values in a moral void. She is not your typical hero. She’s quiet and unassuming an wishes she could afford to disappear. Joining the army is the dream she abandons. It’s a pretty humble way to be a hero, but needs must, and director Debra Granik keeps the movie grounded among its people, never above.