The Homesman (15)

Directed by Tommy Lee Jones
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, John Lithgow

This is a weird one. Also, warning, I'm going to be spoiling a big twist that comes near the end as it impacts the film a lot. Hilary Swank stars as forthright Mary Bee Cuddy, a single woman in the old west who takes on the task of escorting three mentally disturbed women to a church refuge across country. She teams up with Tommy Lee Jones - who also wrote and directed - as a shady down on his luck grifter who is the homesman of the title (whatever the hell a homesman is!) The odd couple have a few trials and tribulations and the film is dark and grim, but the actors are compelling to watch and the three disturbed women they are transporting even start to stabilise a bit with a nice trip through the west. Then ..


.. after seducing him at the campfire one night, Mary Bee inexplicably hangs herself! The film then peters out with a few odd scenes as Jones struggles to get the ladies to the sanctuary.
I believe it's based on a book, and so maybe the suicide is part of that but it is a strange beat, and after sympathising with Swank for the first 90mins or so, the switch to the much less likeable and sympathetic Jones didn't hold my interest in the same way. As director, Jones evokes a strong sense of place, albeit a terribly grim and bleak one. This isn't a fun Cowboys and Indians film, it is survival in a hostile and featureless terrain. Swank is a superb actress, and her unglamorous portrayal holds the film well. Jones as an actor is more problematic. At times there is a twinkle in his eye and humour in otherwise unfunny situations. It is an uneven performance in an uneven film.

Not really enjoyable at all, but admirable in the atmosphere created and in showing the lot of women like Mary Bee, who is forced into offering herself to pretty worthless men as her options are so few. Of interest, one of the mad women is played by Grace Gummer, with her mum Meryl Streep having a small part too. I kept waiting for someone to comment on how alike they were as those Gummer girls are the image of their mum! 5/10

December 2014.

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