- Directed by Tommy Lee Jones
- May 18, 2014 (Cannes) / November 14, 2014 (US)
- Based on the 1988 novel The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout
Three women driven mad by life on the frontier are transported across the country by a pious woman and a drifter who helps her out.
Another movie about terrible people in terrible circumstances forced or willing to do terrible things set in the west. Whodda thunk? The Homesman is not a bad move in and of itself but it’s kind of confusing and not nearly as good as it could have been.
One of the first issues is focus. Whose story is this anyway? Is it that of Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank)-a woman trying to accomplish a task usually left to men that many think she can’t? Is it George Briggs’s (Tommy Lee Jones) finding some form of redemption for the terrible life he has led? Is it the women who have been abused or simply succumbed to the stresses and problems of the frontier? Or is it some vaguely defined combination of all three? That’s hard to tell. None of that is clear.
Hilary swank and Tommy Lee Jones are both good performers. They have talent to spare. For leads in a film it is difficult to do better from a talent perspective. Jones can turn a turd to gold with his voice alone. Swank has worked her share of magic as too. But neither could work magic here.
Mary is described at points as bossy, but she really doesn’t do anything bossy. Not even pushy. I know the idea is to portray her as a victim of the sexism of the mid-1800s. But what we get is a poor job of portraying that. Her attitude is stated by not really shown.
Jones does a decent job as Briggs but not good enough to polish the turd. Briggs is supposed to be a shady character but if it weren’t for seeing him on a horse about to be hung you would think he’s just a bit of a jerk. Honestly his character probably would’ve been better if he had been crafted as a hired gun. Some of the stuff he does in the movie is very Western hired gun and not anything else.
The characters are just poorly defined. We get very little in the way of motivations and thinking. Not to reveal too much but Mary is not able to complete the journey. While Briggs cared for her, his reaction and change of character is rather significant. And it is almost out of the blue. What moment changed him?
I really thought this story would be a story about Mary being empowered by her journey when others could not but once Briggs came into the picture I thought it was going to be some kind of short term romance where they grow as individuals before they go on their separate ways. There is some romantic tension between the two, but it didn’t amount anything other than Briggs missing her.
There is a very talented supporting cast here though their parts amount a little more than cameos. John Lithgow. James Spader. Meryl Streep. Miranda Otto. Hailee Steinfeld. Jesse Plemons. They all show up at different points in the movie, but they are just cameos. It was of those stacked films that is meant to appear of high quality.
The Homesman is an attempt at art that fell short of being as good as it could have been. It is well directed, and the material delivered expertly but the script needed another pass or three to make it work. It has a very good cast and some great production values. It is the kind of well-produced Western that Hollywood does not often make.
The Homesman is a Western that looks good and is entertaining enough but the story itself is a little unfocused. It will not necessarily disappoint you but it’s not something I say seek out. I think you can probably skip it.