The Homesman

Directed By: Tommy Lee Jones

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, William Fichtner, Grace Gummer, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, and Meryl Streep

On paper, Tommy Lee Jones and westerns go together like peas and carrots.  He's exactly the kind of rugged, no nonsense actor who would thrive in the Wild West.  With an elite cast featuring beloved thespians Hilary Swank, James Spader, and the great Meryl Streep, Jones's western The Homesman looks like an awards mammoth.  Having seen the western drama, I now have the shocking duty of saying that neither of these assumptions are true.  The Homesman is a decent indie with everything going for it on paper, but this movie definitely misses the mark of greatness.

For three women in Nebraska, it's been one tough winter filled with heartbreak and anguish.  All have been driven to madness by the tragedies that have befallen them.  Arabella Sours (Grace Gummer) loses all three of her children within a matter of days to a diphtheria epidemic.  Theoline Belknapp (Miranda Otto) snaps and throws her infant child to its death in an outhouse.  Gro Svendsen (Sonja Richter) suffers a mental breakdown after the tragic combination of her mother's passing and her own rape at the hands of her husband.  Reverend Dowd (John Lithgow) and the people of his Nebraskan town have decided to send these troubled girls to a church in Iowa where Reverend Carter and his wife Altha (Streep) can get them the help they need.  There's just one problem.  No man in town wants to do it.

Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) is an uncommonly alone woman.  Unwed yet wealthy, many men have rejected her marriage proposals because of her plain look.  Despite her single status, she's a woman who knows how to fend for herself with a pot or with a gun.  She's one tough spinster.  When the husbands fail to step up to take these three crazy women to Iowa, Mary Bee Cuddy does.  She steps in to do what the men apparently cannot.  As she is leaving town, she finds a claim jumper by the name of George Briggs (Jones) in a rather precarious predicament.  With a noose around his neck hanging from a tree, Briggs sits atop a horse that will kill him if it moves.  Recognizing that she will need help along this journey, Cuddy rescues Briggs on the condition that he accompany her to Iowa.  Less concerned with the harsh winter that lies ahead and more concerned with the certain death that awaits him, Briggs joins Cuddy.

By all rights, The Homesman should have been a grand cinematic experience marked by outstanding performances.  As fate would have it, the film is just decent.  It's nowhere near good enough to justify the stellar ensemble cast it sports.  Sprinkled with humor, marked by heavy-handed direction from Tommy Lee Jones, and filled with a half-baked feminist message, this western drama doesn't exactly hit its mark.  On top of this, the lead performances oscillate between cartoonish and stoic, which is hardly laudable to say the least.  All of this speaks to my larger criticism of The Homesman.  It's decently entertaining but undoubtedly aimless.  At the end of the movie, I'm not really sure what the point of it all really is.

As I've said, the acting is a mixed bag.  For his part as George Briggs, Tommy Lee Jones starts as a whimpering vagabond fearing death, becomes a sharp-witted whiskey lover, transitions into a caring protagonist, and concludes as a drunken, regretful fool.  His character is all over the place, and his performance shows.  For her part as Mary Bee Cuddy, Hilary Swank tries to play this lonely spinster with a tough exterior and a fragile interior.  She gives a solid performance, but we've seen better from her in the past.  For their parts as the three troubled women, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter all deftly bring various forms of insanity to the big screen.

I have my gripes with The Homesman, but I will say that it's definitely an entertaining flick.  On paper, it should have been far better, but it is what it is.  The Homesman gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.