The Homesman – Movie Review by Eveleen Coyle.
Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Screenplay Tommy Lee Jones with Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver (Based on Glendon Swarthout’s book of the same name)
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, William Fichtne, James Spader, Meryl Streep
The Homesman is set in bleak 1850s American frontier country. In their tough pioneering community, three women go insane, pushed over the edge by poverty and the death of children in a harsh, unforgiving land. In order for them to recover, the preacher decides they must go back to Iowa and into the care of a Methodist minister’s wife there, Altha Carter (Meryl Street).
The arduous task of getting them there falls to the single, devout and independent-minded Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank). The three women must travel chained in a closed wagon through barren, bandit country on a journey that will take at least six weeks. As she prepares to leave, Mary Bee begins to realise that she may need help with her journey.
She comes upon and quickly teams up with George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), a claims-jumper, army deserter and drifter. She saves his life (he was about to hang), promises $300 on completion of their journey and they are off. Beautifully shot and paced most of the time, it is a touching, sometimes funny but ultimately heartbreaking story of 1850s American pioneers in the state of Nebraska.
This is the story of frontier women rather than the men. The descent into insanity for the three women (Grace Gummer – daughter of Meryl, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter) is profoundly sad with some very shocking scenes.
Tommy Lee Jones is marvellous throughout if verging on the slapstick at times, perhaps as director he was a little easy on himself here and there? Hilary Swank’s portrayal of Mary Bee quietly lures us into understanding and sympathising with her tough rather humourless character. Behind that courageous, capable person Mary Bee is painfully lonely, but the men she reaches out to are not kind and it is kindness she needs. Yet her gentleness and ability to empathise with the three insane women is touching and surprising every time and her courage unquestionable. All five make for strange companions as they travel west to east but they develop a sort of peace in their companionship too.
But what is Aloysius Duffy’s (James Spader) shocking Irish accent and over acting all about? In fact, what is that whole scene all about, nobody would miss it if they lost it. The Homesman is fascinating although curiously incomplete too. It is both credible and not so credible and the humour is sometimes uncomfortable alongside such grim tragedy. It is not a happy ever after story, and thank the author, the gods or TLJ for that. This one takes time to settle but is certainly worth the watching.