Thursday, 18 April 2013
This is a raw, visceral, guttural, uncompromising film which the screen spits at the viewer through gritted teeth. Set in the bleak backwoods of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri the film is shot with a bleached palette of greys which reinforces the depressing feel this sad tale evokes. I imagine this will not feature on the list of films promoted by the Missouri State Tourism Office! At times I was left wondering where the narrative arc was going - but it does find resolution (albeit a little too sweetly for me).
The central character is Ree played an even younger Jennifer Lawrence than appeared in Silver Linings Playbook reviewed earlier this week. Again, it is her performance that carries the story as she shows an ability to embody, evoke and enact emotions far beyond that of most 18 year-olds.
This film is about loyalty and family. Loyalty to criminal gangs who having moved on from moonshine and who now produce Crystal Methamphetamine in an environment where the boundary lines are clear and the policing of them brutal. Family loyalties are harder to police as it seems that almost everyone is related in some way to each other. If men hurt someone - even a woman, the men folk of the family of the wounded seek revenge. If women carry out a beating, the men cannot respond. There is a peculiar honour code that is woven into the culture of the community that establishes and preserves familial hierarchies. The one thing that no-one can tolerate is 'snitching' - telling the authorities about illicit activities and it is an act of snitching that is the pivot around which this story turns.
In the midst of a moral morass it is Ree who shows that her moral compass is true and she steers a course that is as right as it likely to take her into troubled waters. It is Ree who provides this fractured community with a vision of what family should and could be like.
Ree ekes out an existence for her younger brother and sister who live with their catatonic mother in a cabin in the woods. The mother is catatonic as she can no longer cope with the Meth or the lifestyle of her Meth producing husband Jessup who is now missing. Having been arrested and facing a long jail term, he snitches in the hope of bargaining a reduced sentence. The police bail him to await his court appearance and he disappears. Jessup offers his home and woodland as surety against his bail bond. If he fails to show up in court the family will be evicted. Jessup fails to show.
Ree embarks on a search for her father within a community which refuses to discuss him or his possible fate. The harder Ree pushes the stronger the warnings for her to stop until she crosses a line which places her in a dangerous place which exposes her vulnerability. It also reveals her courage and determination as she is driven on by the realisation "But I can't forever carry them kids and my mom, not without that house."
The brutality of the people in this story - even to their own kith and kin, is frightening. The fact that an encounter can turn from conversation to violence in the blink of an eye is a world I wish to stay clear of. It seems that women are 'owned' by their men as Ree's best friends tells her "you can't say no when you're married".
In the midst of all this gloom and oppression there are odd glimmers of humanity. The neighbours delivering some of their butchered deer carcass and offering use of the log splitter. The eventual way the central problem is resolved and the arrival of new life signified by the gift of two golden chicks for Ree's younger siblings add a splash of both brightness and hope to this otherwise dull and hopeless landscape. I wonder what happens to Ree in the aftermath of all of this.
I have told some elements of the story but hopefully not too many to spoil it for you if you decide to watch it. If you do watch it, it will reward you but at some cost as your emotions are put through the wringer. The acting so good and the camera work at times so close and integral to the action, that you may, like me, feel battered and abused at the end of your viewing! I was glad I watched in the afternoon and not last thing at night. There are no car chases, shoot outs or romantic liaisons. The story is driven by the script and the characters - just what a good film should be. As demanding as this film was to watch, I cannot but give it a coveted 9/10!