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The Homesman - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
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The Homesman
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Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B-
Editing: B-



Tommy Lee Jones directs his second motion picture in nine years with The Homesman, and at the very least, this is a moderate improvement from the incoherent Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). One might suppose it could have been a marked improvement, had he directed more films in the meantime to get more practice. He did do a little-seen HBO movie in 2011.

In someone else's hands, The Homesman could have been great. In Jones's hands, it's, well, barely good. The acting is solid all around, even Jones's, and is perhaps the film's one truly saving grace.

The story is compelling enough, if told oddly at times, with flashbacks that are not always easy to understand. Mary Bee Cuddy (a more than capable Hilary Swank) is a single woman living on a ranch in Nebraska Territory, hardly old by our standards but pretty much ancient by theirs. Twice in this film she proposes marriage to different men; both men mention her age and how "plain" she is. Swank is not unattractive but neither is she conventionally attractive; her relatively masculine features are indeed what gets her some very interesting parts that would not work with other women. This is indeed one of them.

Amazingly, not one, but three women in Mary's tiny community have been driven mad by the horrors of pioneer life. One of them is only 19 and already lost all three of her children to disease; another kills her own baby -- something we see onscreen and is a bewilderingly horrible choice for Jones to choose to show us. The three men spend the entire film pretty much just sitting around in a daze, almost never talking and thus getting no lines. Occasionally one of them will actually do something rational, and in these cases the action only makes sense to convenience the plot.

These women's husbands can't take care of them, and their husbands can't afford to take the time to transport them all back east to Missouri and a place where they can be looked after. One of said husbands refuses even to draw for the task at the local church, so Mary volunteers to draw for him. Mary draws the black bean, and thus we have our story.

But wait, there's more! Much like Jones's last film, there are tonal inconsistencies to The Homesman, which is usually very subdued and understated -- until we meet George Briggs (Jones), a scene that is almost jarringly farcical as he's being driven out of an abandoned home in which he's squatting. The several men after him leave him sitting on a horse, tied up and in a noose under a tree. Mary happens upon him, and forces him to agree to do whatever she tells him to in exchange for setting him free. And thus we get the title character: Briggs is recruited to help Mary on her journey.

It takes a while for the film to get to said journey, but many scenes both before and during Mary's trip are very compelling. The story shifts, at times awkwardly, between mesmerizing and befuddling. Several scenes are very well staged and shot, including one in which Briggs burns down a hotel out in the middle of nowhere as revenge for not accepting him and the women as guests. And Jones clearly has a lot of friends in the movie business, considering the parade of stars in rather small parts, including John Lithgow as the local pastor; James Spader as the hotel owner; and Meryl Streep as the Missouri pastor's wife. Some scenes, on the other hand, are shot in ways that are distracting enough to pull you out of the story.

On average, The Homesman is an interesting story, if only by virtue of its uniqueness. I wish the women playing the crazy ladies had more to work with in the script, but Jones clearly intends this to be more about Briggs and Mary than anyone else. Swank and Jones make them, at least, very compelling characters. And if nothing else, this movie is not predictable; at least one turn of events is truly shocking, and it's actually a respectable artistic choice. In any event, this is a respectable, if imperfect, film.

Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank are pioneers under duress in THE HOMESMAN.</a>


Overall: B-
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