The Homesman

by Alan Rapp on December 5, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Homesman
  • IMDb: link

The HomesmanProduced, directed, and adapted from Glendon Swarthout‘s novel by Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman is an odd little pet project with good intentions which eventually gets away from its creator.

Set in the mid 19th Century, Hilary Swank stars as tough-as-nails 31 year-old spinster Mary Bee Cuddy who would gladly trade a portion of her thriving Nebraska farm for the love of a man. Despite the danger, Cuddy agrees to take three local women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) all driven insane by harsh western life back east and deliver them to a preacher who will reunite each with their families. Her time with the woman brings to the surface Cuddy’s own internal struggle to achieve the kind of life expected of her complete with husband and children.

As a companion she selects a surly claim jumper named George Briggs (Jones) who she saves from the noose and agrees to pay $300 dollars at the completion of their journey. Despite being the best thing about the film, Swank’s character is eventually overshadowed by Briggs whose madness and antics eventually take over the film.

Jones is obviously taken by both the story and the character of Briggs whose plain-spoken self-serving nature occasionally turns violent when he feels taken advantage of. This climaxes at a hotel where the travelers are denied service leading to the movie showcasing just how brutal the character can be when pushed to extremes. Briggs’ arc in the final act shows growth but given the film’s final scenes there’s little hope of actual lasting change leading one to question the point of both the journey and film which ends without having much to say.

The Homesman

The film succeeds in depicting the harsh realities of wagon train life and the limited options open to both Cuddy and the three women. The crazy women themselves get little exploration other than being depicted as wounded, sad, angry, and occasionally dangerous making them more of a plot device than actual characters. And Cuddy is a strong female character, at least until the final act where her choices lead to major changes on the journey and leave a hole in the story that is never quite filled. Moving from Nebraska to Iowa the film also lacks some of the great western vistas you hope for in a movie such as this which might have added a bit of visual splendor to the proceedings.

Those intrigued by the period trappings and the unusual story of two strangers carting a wagon full of crazies across the western frontier may wish to give The Homesman a look. It’s more uneven than I’d like, and fails to offer any point to the entire affair, but Swank and Jones both provide strong performances while the director also sprinkles in a few amusing camoes on the journey, the most impressive being Meryl Streep as the preacher’s wife who eventually takes custody of the women.

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