The Homesman (N/R)

Film

Western

the homesman

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Time Out says

Sun May 18

The West is a grim place in Tommy Lee Jones’s ineffective 19th century oater—especially for Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a plain-looking Nebraska spinster unlucky in love, if still stalwart in spirit. She can hold her own (or so it seems) among the gruff and/or lightly condescending men of her small frontier town. But three other ladies (Grace Gummer, Mirando Otto, Sonja Richter) aren’t so lucky, their fragile minds succumbing to the harsh realities of life on the American verge. There’s no place for madwomen here, so Cuddy volunteers to take the trio east to Iowa where they can be sent home to their families. She could use some help, of course, so fate fortunately puts disgraced soldier and claim jumper George Briggs (Jones) in her path.

Thus begins a testy, unlikely friendship, one you feel like you’ve seen multiple times before despite the best efforts of all involved. Jones, directing his second feature after 2005’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, has an eye for sprawling Western landscapes (cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto gives the images the feel of burned-out daguerrotypes). Yet the script—which Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver adapted from Glendon Swarthout's 1988 novel—shifts uneasily between tragedy and comedy: A woman throws her baby into the pit of an outhouse one moment, Briggs and Cuddy trade barbs like an open range Tracy and Hepburn the next.

It doesn’t help that Swank never finds a way into this highly unappealing character, or that Jones (mostly phoning in the pitiable surliness) avoids delving very deeply into the story’s proto-feminist undercurrents. Every scene with Cuddy and this daft triumvirate feels off—heavily symbolic jibes against patriarchy in need of much stronger execution. Jones is on surer footing with the peripheral characters: Tim Blake Nelson brings some welcome nuttiness as a horned-up kidnapper. James Spader clearly relishes his two scenes as an officious hotel owner. (He and Jones positively crackle together.) And that grande dame of the American cinema, Meryl Streep, makes the most of her cameo as a preacher’s wife whose kindliness is beyond practiced.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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Release details

Rated:

N/R

US release:

2014

Duration:

122 mins

Cast and crew

Director:

Tommy Lee Jones

Cast:

Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Kieran Fitzgerald, Miranda Otto, David Dencik, William Fichtner, Grace Gummer, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Jesse Plemons, Sonja Richter, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, Meryl Streep, Wesley Oliver

Screenwriter:

Tommy Lee Jones

Producer:

Luc Besson

Cinematography:

Rodrigo Prieto

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