As I sat in the theater watching the latest Coen brother's film, True Grit, I quickly noticed a certain familiarity with the character of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld). The film's main focus, Mattie is an intelligent and determined 14-year-old girl who will stop at nothing when it comes to finding the man that murdered her father in cold blood. This young female character immediately brought me to thoughts of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), the lead protagonist in Debra Granik's incredible film, Winter's Bone. Much like Mattie, Ree is a smart and unwavering female character that also has a difficult task that she is faced with. But as opposed to finding her father's killer, Ree is trying to find her father - who may or may not even be alive – so she can save her family from an uncertain fate.
Two very different women that both share a single goal, armed with a drive that would dwarf even the largest of obstacles. Mattie and Ree are inspiringly strong female characters who share many qualities despite their cultural differences. They are what you could call survivors in a way, but one is forced to do so out of necessity, while the other does so to see that justice is served for the one that she has lost. Both have what I would like to call true courage, though, in Mattie's case, she may be too young and naïve to see the danger in which she is putting herself. Then again, maybe she does in fact see it and simply doesn't let it topple her strong spirit. Ree, on the other hand, has to have courage. She has to because if she doesn't, not only will it affect her, but her defenseless family, too.
Even at the age of 17, Ree is already a world-weary woman due to living a very difficult and hardening life. She is not well educated, but her smarts come from the survival instincts formed by living in the very difficult world that she was born into. She has grown up in a place where it is a necessity to endure, and she is using that strength to fight tooth and nail to keep from losing her home. A home that would be lost if her bail-jumping meth-cooking father isn't found. This isn't a story about a girl trying to find her father to save him. Instead, it is about a girl that will risk her life in a dangerous world (that many of us are not at all familiar with), not to keep a roof over her head, but the head of Ree's two younger siblings and ill mother. In this situation, Ree has become the mother, the one that has the ability to take charge and keep her family from situations that no one should ever have to be confronted with. Including herself.
Mattie has a lot more going for her as far as a future goes. An incredibly quick witted and sharp young lady, she has the ability to make things happen with her tenacity for verbal deliberation. She is so young, which makes it easy to underestimate her but it's also something that works to her advantage when she is able to get the best of unsuspecting adults. She understands laws, she understands her rights, and has no problem with letting people know that she will not be easily pushed around. She rides down a road that is never made any less difficult for her due to her age or sexuality, but it is just those qualities that seem to feed her aggressive posture, making her a stronger force because of it. She is driven by despair for a father that was wrongfully taken from her and will stop at nothing to see that his killer pays for his crime.
What Mattie and Ree share as characters is simply how resilient they are to the oppression that faces them. There is no wall that either of these "girls" cannot scale because their drive is too intense, too important. These are fantastically written characters and are brought to life by equally amazing performances. In a movie where Jeff Bridges shows just why he won an Oscar, Hailee Steinfeld is able to stand out in what is a wonderful performance for such a young girl. In fact, it may even be good enough for an Oscar nod, in my opinion. As far as Jennifer Lawrence goes, well, lets just say that in a world where someone like Sandra Bullock can win a sympathy Oscar for playing a hallow character, then it would be a travesty if Lawrence wasn't granted the shot to win for a character and performance that truly should be applauded.