The Homesman

The Homesman photo starrating-2stars.jpgThe Homesman should’ve been a slam dunk. Take a 2-time Oscar winning actress, Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) and have her play a bossy aging spinster. Then add legendary Oscar winning actor Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive) and have him depict a cantankerous old man. Throw them together as a couple of mismatched travelers. Then sit back and bask in the charm that is sure to follow. The problem is (1) the adventure is dreary as all get-out, (2) the dialogue lacks witty banter and (3) they’re saddled with three miserable women in tow.

The Homesman is a Western centered on frontierswoman Mary Bee Cuddy. She is an unmarried strong willed independent “old maid” from Loup City, Nebraska. Three women in the community have gone plum crazy. Reverend Dowd (John Lithgow) has asked for someone to escort the women eastward to a church in Iowa that cares for the mentally ill. Mary Bee is suffering from depression herself. Having been rejected yet again by a potential husband for being too plain. Feeling a kinship with these less fortunate souls, Mary Bee volunteers for the task. Early on her trip, she encounters George Briggs, a claim jumper, who is about to be hanged. He begs for his life and she frees him in exchange for his help.

This revisionist Western has mainly received notice for Hilary Swank’s unvarnished performance. Apparently not wearing makeup will court Oscar talk these days. She gives a sensible portrayal but it‘s far from the revelatory manifestation the buzz would have you believe. The three women that she has agreed to transport are poorly defined characters. They spend most of the duration locked in the back of a vehicle that looks like a paddy wagon. Their personalities are almost interchangeable. None of them speak so I really couldn’t tell one from the other except that one carries a doll. Whenever they’re on screen it just sucks the life out of the proceedings.

The Homesman is a thoroughly depressing experience with little energy. The idea of throwing a feminist and a curmudgeon on a road trip is inspired. But our central duo are not nearly engaging as they should be. It’s mostly forgettable except for a few amusing moments. Out of the blue a grizzled Tommy Lee Jones gets up and dances a zesty jig while singing by the campfire. In another scene, he torches a hotel in a spiteful rage and that got my pulse quickening a bit. Oh James Spader’s pompous hotelier is another high point in a production that usually operates a constant low. The story is inert. To make matters worse, a late dramatic development just happens abruptly. The perplexing act ostensibly motivated by religious guilt. The script is frustratingly cloudy on that point and when the chronicle isn’t being vague, it’s just dull.


15 Responses to “The Homesman”

  1. You have to have the witty banter to provide relief from the stark dreariness of everything. Comic relief is so important and so often done poorly or not enough. Good review.


  2. A very strange movie. However, it’s one that Jones did well with. Good review Mark.


  3. I wonder if Tommy Lee Jones will only direct films that are drearier than heck. He also directed The Sunset Limited for HBO and that didn’t have a smile in it either.

    Great review!


  4. I think Hilary Swank is completely overrated and probably didn’t deserve either of her Oscars. So I can’t say I am surprised by this review.


  5. I liked it, though there were some really, really bizarre directorial choices. And I’m still really torn about the ending. That was probably the most head-scratching element of a very head-scratching affair. Since I hadn’t seen a western in awhile, I think I was more inclined to enjoy it as it was something different for me again. But I see where you’re coming from on this.


  6. Expected better. Depressing and not exciting. Every one was pretty bland, except Meryl and Spader. 2 stars


  7. Dreary is the perfect word to describe the Homesman. Yikes. Talk about a depressing, boring film. It seems like it will be a fresh take on the Western with a strong woman that bucks expectations, and then about halfway through it just becomes typical crap when she loses her mind due to her lack of husband. I agree that the three women are interchangeable, but I disagree about Swank’s performance. Her commitment to the character is the strongest part of this picture aside from the steady hand Jones uses to shoot the film’s picturesque vistas. For me I just thought The Homesman just felt disjointed like a series of moments that never quite hung together cohesively. Also, it was unnecessarily brutal with all its scenes of sexual assault that didn’t come together in a logical chronology.


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