There was once a time when Earth’s mightiest heroes rode horses instead of flying and they solved issues with guns, as opposed to superpowers. These cowboys and outlaws flooded the silver screen and people saw things that they could somewhat relate to. The ways of life were certainly more old-fashioned and men were almost always the singular focus, but we’d occasionally get female driven westerns that stunned and surprised. Well, the year may be 2014 and we may have more superhero films than ever, but it’s refreshing to see a female leading a western, even if the film isn’t all that great.
On a little house on a farmland, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) tends to everything that a man would, at that point in time. She lives alone and has made a living with just herself, up to this point. Occasionally, she’s provided some male company, mainly that of Reverend Alfred Dowd (John Lithgow). When Vester Belknap (William Fichtner) an unreliable townsmen, declines a trip from Iowa to Nebraska in order to transport mentally insane women, Mary steps up and agrees to make the perilous trip.
Outfitted with a large rig, in order to transport the potentially dangerous women(Arabella Sours, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) Mary heads off to collect said women. Along her journey, she comes across George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), hanging from a tree. He’s an outlaw, but he could also help her along her perilous journey. The two come to an agreement and they head off, not knowing what, or who they’ll come across. The open trails can be dangerous and littered with natural and human obstacles, so the two must rely on one another to see things through to the end.
The Homesman is bleak picture that’s loaded with too much talent than it knows what to do with it. It’s powerful female roles are exceptional, but the final execution makes the whole thing fall apart by the end. Add on the fact that the story isn’t all that interesting and you’re left with a strange film that doesn’t work as a whole and makes you question the decisions of the director. I wanted to get behind the talent and the female-lead western, but it didn’t do much for me, which is a huge shame.
Hillary Swank, a woman who needs no introduction and continues to churn out stellar work, yet again shines on-screen in a role that’s equal parts admirable and desperate. She lives alone in a fairly desolate place and she runs her entire farm without any help. Occasionally, a young man will come by to assist her and it’s only then that she gets to play the role of a wife. She begs and pleads for marriage, stating that a union between two well-off people is another benefit to having some emotional comfort. She’s an extremely hardened woman who knows what’s right and isn’t afraid to step up when it’s needed.
Tommy Lee Jones, as an actor in this film, brings everything you love about him to the table. That indistinguishable voice of his is one of the voices of reason in this film and his “old man” persona is pretty enjoyable. He’s a hardened man who realizes the grim realities of the world at its current time and he does what he deems necessary for his survival and the survival of the women, even if those decisions are unpopular. At times, he can be quite humorous and he brings some joy to this predominately joyless film. Other times, he registers on a more emotional scale and pushes the film forward. He and Swank have a back-and-forth chemistry that works well for the film and makes something worthwhile out of all of this.
As a Director and a Writer, Tommy Lee Jones sorely misses the mark and doesn’t have enough in him to tell a worthwhile tale. Everything starts of fine and interesting, but things get convoluted with the incorporation of his character, the distressed women, and the overall ending. His best work is the focus on Swank’s character, but anything else becomes uninteresting and almost mindless. Too many stories wind up competing for the most relevancy and we get lost in the confusion. The ending is especially disappointing and takes a few odd turns that left myself and others scratching their heads. Jones has an interesting story to tell, but he goes about it all wrong and loses our interest a little bit too quickly.
With a supporting cast including the likes of Meryl Streep, James Spader, John Lithgow, and Hailee Steinfeld, you’d expect something truly invigorating to happen. Instead, each is relegated to a few minutes of screen-time, in which their characters are underwritten and under-used. Any of their characters could have been played by anyone, as they’re rather simplistic characters. More than that, they all show up when the film is dragging and you’re instilled with a sense of false hope, as you could only hope that they would rescue you from boredom. Alas, that never happens and they only add a little bit of fuel to the dim fire.
The Homesman aims to be more than a fairly bland western which seeks to impress all, but it ends up being a dull feature that doesn’t do much. Hilary Swank is truly the standout in this film and every scene she’s in leaves you yearning for more. Tommy Lee Jones continues to play variations of the same grumpy character, but it still works for him and you won’t see me complaining about his acting chops. As for directing and writing, well, I believe he should just stick with acting for now. He has some great ideas going on up in his head, but he just doesn’t know how to present them on the screen and on paper. It’s unfortunate that so much talent went to waste, but I suppose it’s always nice to see some familiar faces. Let’s just hope that they all shine the next time we see them.
The Homesman Trailer