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Tommy Lee Jones has a wry, dry character -- rich and deep as unwatered
open plains of the Americas. He's transferred his particular
personality power to the story of The Homesman. He's successfully
created a fine work of "auteur cinema" (much as I personally think this
form rarely exists).
The Homesman is an emotionally and powerful, idea-rich, almost humorless story -- with an immense amount of humor. It has very tight, economic tale telling with no fat on the bone; in which much is implied, historical accuracy hits its target by nuance, and the story itself is deeply respectful of an intelligent audience.
The Homesman is not "entertainment" in the haha, shoot-'em-up Western sense. It's realism committed to a moral cause -- criticism of the disenfranchised, the homeless, the people who cannot make it no matter how hard they try. It has a brilliant sense of time and place that tells the life stories of dozens of hard-enduring, long-suffering "forgotten men" -- the women no less than the men.
The key heartbreaker is Hilary Swank's character of Miss Mary Bee Cuddy. She's born into a Western frontier world where she and everyone else believes and practices that "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Hard workers and decent people. But tragically that is not enough. Why? The Homesman leaves that question deliciously unanswered. Life is not fair. God is not just.
Beautifully The Homesman does -- kind of -- answer life's problems with the value of sheer vitality and gutsiness itself. Thus that key visual motif in the movie that comes from: George Caleb Bingham, "The Jolly Flatboatmen". We must dance the dance of life, however mad.
I need to get something off my chest: I'm not a fan of Tommy Lee Jones.
I find him limited in range, much the same in most roles and, worst of
all, he inexplicably won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The
Fugitive, thus depriving Pete Postlethwaite for In the Name of the
Father, Leonardo Di Caprio for What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Ralph
Fiennes for his performance of pure evil as Amon Goeth in Schindler's
List. In modern parlance, WTF?
But periodically, just occasionally, once in a while, he inhabits the screen in a manner that forces one to reconsider one's judgment. And so it is with The Homesman.
The Homesman is something of a surprise, and not just because Tommy Lee Jones is on remarkable form in it. Beyond a fine performance, the man writes, directs and co-produces it. Hell's bells, when did he become so damn good at everything?
In the bad old days of the pioneers in the Wild West, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) steps in when three women drift into various states of madness and need to be transported across the country to be cared for properly. Shunned by their husbands, denied help from the town's menfolk and at a time where rape and murder hides behind every outcrop of rock and every gnarled cactus, Cuddy sets off alone on her hazardous journey. She stumbles across George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), a drifter seated atop his horse, with a noose around his neck, waiting for his steed to grow bored and leave him hanging. Literally. Cuddy offers to save him on the condition that he accompanies her and so begins a particular kind of journey.
The Homesman is probably described by many as a western, but that's lazy. This is a road movie on horseback, a saunter across the plains, a journey through mistrust and emotions where a mistake or misplaced trust will result in death. It is a story of hope and love, not the romantic kind, but real love for one's fellow human being, regardless of whether they can, or will, reciprocate.
Shot beautifully with sprawling, dusty vistas that warm the heart and prickle the nape, the backdrop is a vast canvas of character and mystery upon which splashes of colour are smeared in the shape of wandering, human dangers.
Though they say little, the trio of women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter) are far more than peripheral characters or the MacGuffin; they are the substance that binds The Homesman and the reason for the drama, gentle though it is. As we saw in Mr. Turner, such characters can so easily become pantomime animals with over performance that slaps the viewer in the face and detracts from the whole, of which they are but a small part. Not so here. Grace Gummer, particularly, as the mostly mute but vacantly animated Arabella is terrific and we want to reach into the screen and gently push her back towards sanity. It is a beautiful, understated performance that remains in mind long after the event.
Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank make a surprising double act but the chemistry is there in abundance. Both Cuddy and Briggs carry their own needs and daemons with them; neither would give the other a second glance ordinarily but circumstance prompts odd, emotional couplings and theirs is fraught with suspicion and obligation. It is fantastic to see Swank back to the form that brought her gongs and made us sit up and watch in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby. This is a far less demonstrative performance, but no less steely or impactful because of it.
Tommy Lee Jones's performance is the most compelling, engrossing that I can recall. Beyond that, his direction is worth celebrating loudly. The Homesman is only his second feature as director (after 2006's wonderful but little seen The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) but there are hints that he may step into Clint Eastwood's shoes alongside Ben Affleck and Sean Penn. Just when we think we have the measure of this tale, he belts us sharply around the jowls, proving he has the mettle to surprise and shock us out of our complacency.
Maybe, after years and years of apparently coasting, broodily on film and staring into space, it will transpire he was merely absorbing, waiting for the moment to own both sides of the screen and captivate us.
You know what, maybe he's always been this good but I just didn't see it.
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The Homesman, written and directed and starring Tommy Lee Jones tells
the story of Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) a spinster who takes on the
responsibility of bringing three insane women to Iowa where they can be
taken care of.
She saves or spares the life of George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) and enlists him on her arduous five week journey.
When you see Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones, you know the acting is going to be stellar. The parts of the insane women, Arabella Sours (Grace Gummer), Theoline Belknapp (Miranda Otto), Gro Svendsen (Sonja Richter) because of the great directing remained the focus while being secondary characters. The movie had a Shakespearean feel to it and that is a great compliment. These ladies portrayed insanity, believably and that takes serious dedication and acting ability.
"The Homesman" was a tragedy and because of it, some people might not be able to pallet the story; there were some shocking attention grabbing scenes that the average viewer might not be prepared for. Those scenes, to me, were great examples of a different time, a time when life was hard and people died.
The Homesman is a story that sits with you and makes you thankful for many things, even if it just the shoes on your feet.
The story behind this movie is so engaging that it is a perfect platform for good performances and none of the players disappoints. Hilary Swank has never been better: tough but kind-hearted, determined but vulnerable. Tommy Lee Jones is at his salty, rough-edged, believable best. Since Mr. Jones also directed the film it is not just his rugged pioneer character that creates the authenticity of this portrait the Plains sod-busters in pre-statehood Nebraska. From the opening scene your senses are immersed in the grit, hunger, muscle-ache and the incessant wind of this stark place that always seems to be on the edge of disaster. The casting was impeccable, down to the smallest role and especially for the non-speaking parts (that will make more sense once you've seen the film.) I don't think the movie is without flaws. There is one scene that I felt was unnecessary and presented the male lead (Jones) out of character. If not for that I would have rated this beautiful, riveting movie a 10.
'THE HOMESMAN': Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five)
Tommy Lee Jones directed, co-wrote and stars in this western/drama film (set in the 1850s midwest) about a 'spinster' and a 'drifter' transporting three women, driven mad by the hardships of the time, across the country. It costars Hilary Swank, Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer and Sonja Richter. It also features cameos by Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, William Fichtner and Hailee Steinfeld. The film was written by Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver and it's based on the 1988 novel, of the same name, by Glendon Swarthout. French filmmaker Luc Besson served as a producer of the movie and it also features a breathtaking music score by Marco Beltrami. It's surprisingly dark, and extremely disturbing, but I enjoyed it due to it's strong character development, outstanding performances and odd beauty.
Swank plays Mary Bee Cuddy, a strong and independent 31-year-old woman from New York. She desperately wants to find a husband but can't, due to men finding her too plain looking (I don't think Swank looks bad at all in this movie, considering the film's time and setting). When the local reverend (Lithgow) asks for someone to transport three women across the country, to a church in Hebron Iowa, Cuddy volunteers. The women (Otto, Gummer and Richter) are all mentally ill and the church will provide the special help they need. Cuddy comes across a drifter named George Briggs (Jones), who's about to be lynched for 'claim jumping', and asks him for his help (in return for saving his life). The two make the long journey together and form an odd bond.
The movie has been called a 'feminist western', by many, and I'd definitely agree it's a strong female character study, about the hardships women faced at the time. Swank is outstanding in the co- lead and Jones is just as classic and tough as ever; he does (unintentionally I think) steal some of the female cast's thunder. Jones also proves he's an equally talented director (once again) and the movie is full of beautiful visuals, as well as haunting imagery. For me the highlight of the film is the beautiful music and the touching relationships formed by the movie's central characters (it also has a shocking and unexpected twist, at the end of the second act). It's a hard film to watch, at times, but definitely worth it; if you're a fan of the genre or even if you're not.
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Given that three women in the Nebraska Territory all went raving mad at the same time (maybe it was the Danish rye bread), this tale grabs us immediately with its starkness, bitterness and coldness, not to mention lack of compassion. Tommy Lee Jones as a drunken old reject is right on the mark. Hillary Swank is no longer a sexy young gal, rather a bitter lonely hard-working single woman trying to eke out a living in the unforgiving wilderness. Every scene, every moment is captivating. You may not even like what you're seeing, but you can't stop watching. Somehow, even though I thought three mad women at one time seemed contrived, I had to accept that it was just that way. Shortly after getting organized, the film turns into a road picture, but what a road, or lack thereof. Jones, Swank and the three locas have to traverse empty countryside, facing drought, Indians, hunger, privation of every kind, for at least five weeks to get to a place where a kindly preacher's wife (Meryl Streep, as usually so immersed in this small part that you just know she's really a long-suffering preacher's wife) has promised to care for them. Developer James Spader too has only a few brief moments to do his thing, but it's unforgettable. When my granddaughter was small, we used to watch films together. Sometimes when we watched a film she really really liked, (think Zoot Suit), she'd burst out crying at the end. I'd ask, "Why are you crying, Baby Girl?" and she'd say, "Because I didn't want it to be over." I felt this way about The Homesman. I didn't want it to be over. I had lots more questions and things I'd like to see resolved. What happened to the hotel and town development? What happened to the man (William Fichtner, always a pleasure) and his two little girls? What happened to the crazy women and whatever happened to Briggs (Jones)? A sad cold story, but one you just can't walk away from.
This is a great movie which in its offbeat dramaturgy depicts the
unpredictability, pointlessness and hardships of life. And it does so
with an underlying sense of humor which is almost Kafkaesque and
absurd. Don't let the settings fool you this is not a western flick,
it is timeless, and it serves as a tasty, simple snack for the already
thinking viewer. All "plotholes" pointed out by other reviewers
actually makes sense when thinking about them, and once again kudos to
the unpredictable, non-conformant, "non-template-A" storyline and
character arcs which should be seen more in film and television.
A little too much use of "fade-in fade-out" in the cutting, a little unrealistic portrayal of mental disease, and a little uninspiring photography IMO actually, but otherwise a great flick for the thinking person. With guns.
December 19, 2014
A homesman is someone tasked to bring people back to their homes. In this film, the people that needed safe transport are three mentally- disturbed women. Mary Bee McCuddy, a plain but hardy spinster, volunteered to be their homesman. Along the way, she rescues a old man Thomas Briggs from being hung by vigilantes and conscripts him to help her with her mission in exchange for saving his life. Together, they gather the three ladies and escort them from Nebraska homes across the dangerous Midwest prairie to a safe haven in Iowa.
Hilary Swank is an actress who had already won a couple of Oscars for playing strong women who had taken on masculine roles in life -- Brandon Teena in "Boys Don't Cry" and Maggie Fitzgerald in "Million Dollar Baby". As Mary Bee McCuddy, a pioneer lady who bravely accepts a task only men are expected to do, Swank again goes on the same award-baiting path. The movie worked so well when Swank was on screen. She was absolutely compelling in this offbeat role as if this was written with her in mind. The movie was not the same when her character was not there.
Tommy Lee Jones is one actor who, as of late, had seemingly been confined to playing curmudgeonly and cantankerous old men, and his Briggs here is not any different. This film is only Jones' second directorial effort since his critically-acclaimed debut in "Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" back in 2005. As director, he was very generous to his lead female star Swank, and always gave way to let her shine. As actor, he does consistently as he is expected but this role of a grumpy old outlaw seems too familiar for him already. He wisely played Briggs with some self-deprecating humor to break the tendency of the story to become monotonously bleak.
There were some remarkable cameos from other award-winning or nominated stars in much smaller roles. John Lithgow is his usual capable self playing the Reverend Dowd who reluctantly sends McCuddy off on her task. Hailee Steinfeld plays 16-year old Tabitha Hutchinson to whom Briggs offers a surprising proposal. James Spader, in his usual over-the-top style, plays condescending hotel owner Aloysius Duffy. And last, but definitely not the least, none other than THE Meryl Streep plays perfectly kind and hospitable Altha Carter, who runs the institution in Iowa the women are headed for. These actors appear on screen for only ten minutes or so, but they leave a lasting impression.
The narrative may have been slow and desolate . However, the unusual situations, disturbing imagery, startling story developments and committed performances by the cast all keep our attention riveted. The cinematography with the muted colors worked well with the windswept landscape of its setting, as much a character in itself. The costumes and production design rang true to its mid-19th century time period. The haunting and unsettling musical score create an atmosphere of bitter emptiness. The insufferably miserable topic is clearly not for everyone. But for those who decide to give it a chance, the rewards will be satisfying. 7/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I learned something today. Luc Besson - the Producer - may give us
tremendous movies when he dares to, when he is in "the mood" for. This
one is the perfect example, at a billion miles away from the usual
garbage Junk stuff Besson usually gives us. Crap factory from Europa
This film is a masterpiece, so was another Europacorp film directed by the same Tommy Lee Jones, back in 2005, THREE BURIALS that no one can forget. Such as this one. An unusual and surprising western.
Hillary Swank is here at her best ever, probably better than in MILLION DOLLAR BABY. Clint Eastwood could have made this one, and not only as a director...
A poignant, gripping story that glues you to your seat from the start to the end. The odyssey, the melancholic journey of a man and a woman, so different from one to the other, who are in charge of three lunatic females. An offbeat and also outstanding tale, adapted from a Glendon Swarthout's novel, the author of THE SHOOTIST, from which Don Siegel made the last John Wayne's film, back in 1976.
I really liked the western "The Homesman", but I strongly suspect that it won't be to everyone's taste. And I will admit that even this die hard fan of westerns didn't find it a perfect movie. The opening thirty minutes of the movie, for one thing, are somewhat confusing with some details, though eventually everything comes together and the audience knows what's been going on. And after that first thirty minutes, the movie continues to test the patience of viewers by being quite slow moving and long (the movie is over two hours long.) But I stuck with the movie despite all those things, and I feel I was rewarded in the end. The atmosphere of the movie feels extremely authentic, showing many of the hardships life in the wild west gave many people. Though the story is slow-moving, there are a number of interesting vignettes along the way. And you probably won't predict what eventually happens - the major plot turn around the two-thirds mark really took me by surprise. The last scene is a little unclear as to where one of the characters is headed, but it is memorable all the same. As I said, the movie is not for all tastes, but western fans who are in a patient mood will likely embrace it despite its flaws.
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