Review: The Homesman

Rating 3.5

 

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When is a western movie not a Western? Like all great dramatic movies, westerns or not, The Homesman is a about relationships, conflict, duty and love. Like Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956) and The Magnificent Seven (1960), just to name a few, The Homesman is a personal drama set in the West of the mid 1800s. However this film is about a subject that we have not seen before.

Based on the Glendon Swarthout novel of the same name, The Homesman is about how weather, disease, hunger, indians and wild animals on the frontier can actually drive people crazy. This film put a face, actually three faces, on this all too common tragedy. Anabella Sours (Grace Gummer), Theoline Belknapp (Miranda Otto) and Gro Svenden (Sonja Richter) are women who have had to endure too much. The scenes of what they have experienced and what their broken minds caused them to do are difficult but important to watch.

Their community needs someone to get them back East so that their family and church can better take care of them. They need a Homesman. But there is no one. More correctly, there is no man either willing or able to take on the challenge of transporting three screaming, insensible women across hundreds of miles of prairie.

But Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank) is a strong single woman willing to do the job. Now let’s remember, being a strong woman today is much different than being a woman in 1850 farming on the prairie by herself. She is as strong as stone, “and plain as tin pail”. But as Hillary Swank plays her, Mary Bee is also a very caring person who also knows pain.

In the process of getting ready for the trip Mary comes across help literally hanging by a thread. The very reluctant and irascible George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) is the help she needs but she also has to be strong and smart to keep him from running out on her.

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This Western-that –isn’t-a-Western is written and directed by Tommy Lee Jones (I expect that one or more Oscar nominations are in store). And he gets us to care about everyone from the start. The three crazed women break our hearts for what they have had to go through. We Like Mary Bee’s strength and also feel her pain when she keeps being disappointed by those around her. Even the scoundrel George becomes a touch point for us.

Hilly Swank does an incredible turn as May Bee. She brings us into her heart and her heart ache.  And Tommy Lee Jones’ picture should be in the dictionary under “grizzled claim jumper”. But, as usual he shows that there is more than one side to George. We also get to see a host of top tier actors in supporting roles; John Lithgow, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, William Fichter and Meryl Streep.

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I can’t go into the story much more without potentially spoiling it for you. Unlike many other movies, this is a story that you need to experience at the pace of a wagon moving across the amber autumn prairie. And I highly recommend that you take this journey.

 

The Homesman will be theaters on November 14th (limited release)