The main character of Winter's Bone (2010), 17-year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), is as tough as old boot leather. She lives up in the Missouri Ozarks with her mama, who is physically present but mentally absent, her twelve-year old brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and her six-year old sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson). Her father Jessup has been missing for some time, and the story begins when Ree gets told that her father has to show up for court or they're going to lose their house. Jessup put it up as bond for bail money.
It's well known that Ree's father cooks methamphetamine and that he's been in trouble with the law before. Now that he is missing and the immediate safety of her family is threatened, Ree goes looking for him, asking a lot of uncomfortable questions of some very dangerous people.
Ree is shown right from the start as self-sufficient and strong in the sense that she does what has to be done. In her case that means taking care of her mother and her siblings, chopping wood and hunting squirrel and trying to make ends meet. There are poignant instances where Ree is taking her siblings to school and then looking in through the doors of the classrooms with something like longing in her eyes, showing plainly that she knows what she has to give up for her family.
Ree goes in search of her father, talking to relatives and people her father has had dealings with all over the community. She forms an uneasy alliance with her volatile uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) in trying to get to the truth, though it's pretty clear right from the get-go that her father is gone for good, if not dead.
One of the more interesting things about this story is that even if the culture is portrayed as predominantly and pretty aggressively patriarchal, the women are given a lot of weight and substance. Most everywhere Ree goes she is greeted at the door by the wives and girlfriends of the men she has to ask questions of, and they are all cast in the same tough-as-nails Cerberus dye. The region's patriarch Thump Milton (Ronnie Hall) is guarded by his spouse Merab (Dale Dickey), who also delivers an almighty beating to Ree when she won't stop her investigation.