The Homesman is a very difficult film to watch, on many levels. To start with, it’s set in 19th century territorial Nebraska, so most of the scenes are set in bleak, flat, country. It’s still beautiful, in its way. But it’s stark. As is the premise: three pioneer women in the small town of Loup (French for ‘wolf’) go crazy over a particularly harsh winter (which, you know, in Nebraska, is saying something) and the town minister, and their husbands, decide to send them back east, to what is considered civilization: Iowa (which, again, is saying something). One of the main characters, Mary Bee Cuddy, played by Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby), is a single, unmarried, pioneer woman living, and making a living, on her own, on her own farm. She volunteers to take the women back, knowing that a man just isn’t up for the job of taking care of three crazy women, much less, probably, one relatively sane woman. But, Mary Bee isn’t dumb, she knows the trip will be hard and dangerous, so she enlists (slash almost blackmails) a newly arrived (and already in trouble with the locals) old geezer-loser named George Briggs, played by director and co-writer, Tommy Lee Jones. And the rest of the movie is them transporting the three women over flat and bleak terrain. The Homesman is marketed as a Western, but it’s not, really. Yes, there are six-shooter guns, and yes Indians do make an appearance, but it’s not a cowboy movie. Which is fine. But you should know. Instead, it’s a…pioneer movie? It’s Nebraska, after all, and the journey is back east, not into the setting sun. Another lever of watching-difficulty is that The Homesman is more of, or tries to be, a psychological movie: it’s about madness, and degrees of madness, since neither Cuddy nor Briggs is necessarily what we’d call sane. Anybody that would choose to live in the Nebraska Territory has got to be a little off, which may still be true today. That is, you gotta be crazy to live in Nebraska. But the movie features some pretty disturbing scenes showing just how crazy the three women have become, and in some cases why. There may not be ‘traditional’ cowboy-western violence, but there is violence. There is also some absurdity, and some scenes that were laughed at by the audience I was with (I too laughed). And they weren’t meant to be funny, even though Jones’ character does have the snide sarcastic humor that Jones is good at playing. No, instead, some scenes between he and Swank just do not come off very well. That’s hard for me to write, since they’re both two of my favorite actors. But Swank just seems a little out of her element here. I know why Jones picked her: Mary Bee Cuddy is supposed to be “plain” (ie ugly) and though I personally think Swank is very attractive, she’s not conventional-Hollywood-beautiful. But her character’s old-fashioned American English just doesn’t quite work. That, and/or her lines in the script are just a little too much not quite on. (Side note: if the Red Sonja movie ever gets made, they should cast Swank as Sonja)(or something: give her an action movie role)(a New York cop even). And I’ll say this too, which has been true of a few westerns in the past few years: the ‘town’ sets are awful and absurd-looking. Anybody who has spent some time in the American West will note that towns formed, gradually, around water: rivers. And that, you know, farms need water to work. Instead, in this movie, any towns or houses are just a bunch of densely-packed houses of the same design and age (ie new) set in a flat plain, surrounded by emptiness. Any time any kind of non-settler building appeared in The Homesman, I was immediately taken out of the story by the thought “Wow, that’s an awful and obvious set.” But I think the thing that really bothered me the most was how Swank’s character Mary Bee Cuddy is established at the beginning of the movie as not only the main character, but a strong independent kick-ass pioneer woman. Perfect for Swank. Except, after Jones’ character appears, once they’re on the road, Cuddy becomes more and more seemingly helpless, and more and more dependant on Briggs, until the movie morphs into focusing on him as the main character. The only way I can explain this is that, again, this is a movie about craziness, and Swank’s character going crazy, along with everyone else. Except I’m not sure about that, and there isn’t that much development about her, once she’s established. Maybe there was more on this in the book (of the same name) from which this movie was adapted. Adaptations are always a warning sign. This is Jones’ fourth movie as a director. I really liked his first, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and I’ve heard through the grapevine that he optioned Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which I can’t help feeling (that or it makes me feel better to think so) that The Homesman is a practice run for that movie. And I do appreciate that Jones seems to really like the American West, and its history. But, Nebraska is a hard sell. In the hands of a different director, maybe one that wasn’t also the lead actor, this could have been pulled off. I hate myself for saying that, since I like Jones so much. I really wanted and expected this movie to work. But it doesn’t. The Homesman (2014)2.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.