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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Homesman | Tommy Lee Jones, Hillary Swank, Meryl Streep, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter | Review

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4sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD Judy Thorburn

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4lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD


The Homesman

Actor Tommy Lee Jones took a stab at directing his first feature film with 2005's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.  Now, ten years later he is back at the helm, directing himself in the western drama, The Homesman, that he cowrote with Kieran Fitgerald and Wesley Oliver, based on Glendon Swarthout's 1988 novel.

The story is set in the mid 1850's when the harsh realities of living on the almost desolate prairie of the Nebraska territory was too much for some to bare, especially women who struggled to help work the land and raise a family.

With their husbands unable to care for their wives who have gone insane and no man willing to pitch in, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank) a 31 year old, unmarried, strong willed, pious woman comes to the plate, volunteering to transport three such woman, 19 year old Arabella (Grace Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter), Theoline (Miranda Otto), and Gro (Sonja Richter) by a make shift covered wagon to a safe haven in Iowa where the town's Methodist minister and his wife (Meryl Streep) have agreed to take them in.

After eventually realizing the journey might be more than one person, yet alone a single woman, can handle, help appears in the form of George Briggs (Jones) a scraggly old drifter, claim jumper and army deserter, that Cuddy comes across in a life threatening position. In exchange for escorting the women to their destination, Cuddy promises to save Briggs' life, which considering his state of being, is an offer he can't refuse. What follows is their arduous five week journey, in which the unlikely pair and their human cargo endure challenges including starvation, an encounter with hostile Native Americans, a sleazy cowboy with rape on his mind (Tim Blake Nelson), and other hardships that threaten their mission.

Swank delivers a powerful and moving performance as Mary Bee, a spinster desperate to find a husband despite constant rejection by potential male suitors who deem her too bossy and “plain as an old tin pail”.  While tough on the outside, there is much more to her complex character and we get to see a soft, compassionate side along with a vulnerability that reveals her deep emotional pain and suffering.

Although the movie starts off about the women, halfway through, the story takes a shocking, unexpected turn whereafter it shifts to Tommy Lee Jones' character becoming the central focus. True to form, Jones delivers yet another fine performance as Briggs who, in spite of his self serving, nasty and irresponsible behavior is given an opportunity to redeem himself.  Unfortunately, his role is infused with occasional humor that for such a serious drama, feels out of place.

With all things considered, regardless of its uneven tone and execution, I recommend The Homesman because is not the traditional western, for Swanks's standout, memorable performance, the gorgeous cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain), and its rare, revealing insight into what frontier life was like for women and the horrendous toll it took on them. Although bleak and filled with heartache and tragedy, The Homesman offers a rocky, yet interesting journey worth taking.


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