A powerfully driven drama about the steaming pace of gossip in a rural community, this on top of the strength of close and distant family connections makes for a really watchable, interesting and incredible film.
In the sticks of Ozarks a 17 year old called Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is pretty much alone in raising her younger brother and sister as her mum is too ill to do so. Then one day she finds out her father is absent and if he doesn’t show for his court date then thanks to him signing the house over, Ree could lose her home and her family. She takes it on herself with brave boots to go from person to person to try and find out where her dad could be.
This film is thick and dripping heavily with dread….and I love it. The feeling of this helps tick the film along and keep you in constant suspense of this bleak and strange out-land where Ree is facing danger. The hushed and warned of mention Thump Milton makes for a drastic and wholly dramatic confrontation later on that really shows you the power of people sticking together in this place. You just can’t help but feel for Ree in her plight as she is a well drawn likable character with a mission that you sympathise with, so the dread reaches boiling point when she returns for her wish to speak to Milton. Even in the look of the film alone you gain that sense of dread and haunting worry as the colour is almost drained out to nothing leaving the audience a dull world to face. This works so well in making her life seem washed out, the threat of no home being an even bigger way to wash her out of everything. This film uses a palette of greys, blues and blacks much better than Hardwicke in my previously reviewed write-up. Winter is definitely represented harshly in this film and gives every story turn a jagged cold edge to keep the bleakness going.
Debra Granik directs and screenplays an adaptation of the 2006 novel with an eye for truly capturing the journey of character and the ties of family. The homes and landscapes of this rural community are seen as unforgiving and chilling, the burnt out splintered meth lab that Ree investigates is a clear example of how dangerous this place can be. Women and big strong men all stick together and their unison is a dangerous power for Ree to face too. It’s like the people of Ozarks have become the way they are due to their surroundings. The writing of this movie is great with characters coming to blows making for loud exchanges in dialogue contrasted with more subtle brooding moments such as Ree and her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) being pulled over by a cop. The main story itself of finding family, distant relations in her missing dad and close knit relations in her bringing up her sis and bro give good showcases of how family is an emotional seesaw.
Jennifer Lawrence really became a star here and I honestly felt her role and acting in this film is much more complex and interesting than the role she won her first Academy Award for. Tiffany in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is an okay character but it’s striving to be rom-com material with an easy character of sick backgrounds, Ree is a much more independent, strong willed and smart female character and Lawrence plays this driven girl with so much conviction. She tiptoes from withdrawn and quiet in the fear of others to stomping in the face of danger with a loud, motivated and assured actors grip. This is the film and role she should have achieved an Oscar for but oh well. John Hawkes plays the mysterious uncle greatly in providing suspense of character as you just can’t always pin what side he’s on. Is he helping, will he turn on Ree, does he know something? It’s all questions and even if they weren’t answered I’d still like his character as it’s not paper thin and the 3-dimensional aspect gives Hawkes something to get his teeth into. I must give applause to Dale Dickey too who gives a creepy-esque performance especially in her later stages in the glow of the night with a chainsaw. I say no more. Her protective and dominant role in trying to push Ree back is fantastic and you can tell there’s trouble lurking in the midst of her character.
The only thing I thought was a little odd was a possible dream sequence of Ree’s that looks like a school projection video, just some li’l squirrels running around to the terrifying sound of felled trees. To me it added nothing and took nothing away, a near pointless mini moment, but apart from that this film explores and identifies with family problems with a fine microscope and the results are gripping to watch.
A tough and bleak movie but one that boosts the appeal of Jennifer Lawrence even further. It also sheds cliched dramas about family right down to the bone leaving us with the raw and colder aspects of blood bonds which is fantastic.