Release year: 2014
Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Screenwriter: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley A. Oliver, Glendon Swarthout (novel)
Starring: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Sonja Richter, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, David Dencik, John Lithgow, Evan Jones
Ratings: Nominated for Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Three women who have been driven mad by the pioneer life is to be brought back across the country. The independent-minded and bossy Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) takes on the job. Together with the low-life drifter George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), whom she has hired to help her, she sets out on a journey made tough by the company of three mad women, a reluctant man, and the harsh elements of the frontier.
Tommy Lee Jones’s western The Homesman shows a strikingly bleak portrait of life on the 19th-century American frontier. Although a traditionel western it differs from most westerns by focusing on the effects the hard life could have on the women, characters usually used as background material, love interests, and damsels in distress in this very masculine genre. Though the three mentally ill women arguably can be seen as damsels in distress, their distress isn’t caused by an evil person but by the rough life at the frontier and the woman leading them to safer grounds is resourceful and determined. But even though she is a strong character, Mary Bee has her own problems to struggle with and her complexity is perfectly brought forward through an incredible performance by Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, 1999) who carries the movie on her narrow shoulders and instantly captures our sympathy. Despite Jones (No Country for Old Men, 2007) delivering as the seemingly despicable Briggs who occastionally shows signs of a nicer person hidden beneath the grumpy wrinkles, he must see himself overshadowed by Swank. The three women, who are the reason behind the journey, are all well-casted with Richter (The Keeper of Lost Causes, 2013), Otto (Reaching for the Moon, 2013), and especially Gummer (Frances Ha, 2012) convincing as women brought over the edge into insanity. The story is simply told, with a few flashbacks, but it is strong and together with Marco Beltrami’s unsettling score the result is a movie that at times is a tough and intense watch and gives a rare insight into a downside of the Wild West that has nothing to do with gunslingers and bankrobbers. Instead it is a ruthless insight into a group of characters whose voice is seldom heard in westerns and into the life of a woman, whose desperation and despair grows uncomfortably close to the broken women she tries to help and the lack of understanding her situation raises in those around her. A different, but no worse for it, western with attitude and a lot to say.
Glendon Swarthout’s novel who is the source behind the movie was published in 1988. The rights to the movie adaption was owned by Paul Newman for a while, but he never found a satisfying script.
Picture copyrights: Scanbox