Incredible movie! It’s set in the Ozarks — that’s rural Missouri/Arkansas, for those not intimately acquainted with American geography. Think Appalachia: in-bred mountain folk with a clannish ethic, tough, stringy people. Mean, too, especially the womenfolk. The way the film is shot, you see the bleak beauty of the place, its isolation. I was drawn into the gritty reality of the picture immediately and not in a detached, anthropological way. I felt like I knew this world by the end of the film, I understood the people and respected them on their own terms — not that I’d want any of them for friends.
The main character is Ree, a seventeen-year-old girl who has dropped out of high school to look after her younger brother and sister. Her father’s gone, her mother is mentally ill. She’s the only person holding the family together and she’s got too much pride to ask for help outside the extended family. Only problem is, the family business is crack. Up in them hills they’re running meth labs — not that any of her relatives seem to be making a profit. They live in crappy houses with junked vehicles and rusting machinery littering the grounds. Nobody washes much or changes their clothes. Nobody cracks a joke. They’re all paranoid and there’s an edge of violence to every encounter. Ree stubbornly persists in asking questions, putting herself in harms way, determined to get at the truth of what happened to her father no matter what it costs her.
The novel upon which this film is based was described as “country noir” and the basic story does remind me of a classic mystery of the Chandler/Hammett variety. Ree could hold her own against Spade or Marlowe. Actually, she’s got more street-smarts than either of those guys and not a single romantic illusion. But by the end, she’s gotten the answers she needs to go on.
I’ve said enough. Watch the trailer if you need any more convincing.
(23 December 2010)