Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Miranda Otto, John Lithgow, James Spader, Meryl Streep
Running Time: 122 min
Release: November 21st
Set in the Old West, The Homesman tells the story of a petty criminal (Tommy Lee Jones) who owes a debt to a farmer (Hilary Swank) who saved his life. In return he agrees to help her escort three insane woman across country for treatment. The trek will be difficult, and along the way they’ll face danger from Indians, bandits and the landscape itself. Despite their differences they have to learn to work together, as it seems the madness afflicting their passengers might be rubbing off on them too.
A tough Western drama from director/star Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman pulls few punches when it comes to depicting the darkness of the period. From the disturbing flashback scenes depicting the madness of the three woman (an early scene featuring actress Miranda Otto in particular is sure to send gasps rippling through an audience), to the coldness of the violence, the film paints the time period in stark colours.
But that’s not to say The Homesman is a complete slog. In fact Jones is adept at regularly injecting dry humour into proceedings, so the harshness doesn’t completely overwhelm the viewer. The heart of the film is the relationship between Swank and Jones. She is a headstrong, god fearing woman, but also afflicted by some deep rooted insecurities. He on the other hand is a selfish, drunken idiot with occasional flashes of decency. The tension and interplay between them is where the film shines, and they create a surprisingly touching relationship. Swank in particular does a fine job, and her work is a reminder of how good she can be when given the right material.
The actresses playing the insane ladies also do good work, but as the story rolls on they’re not given much to do but sit quietly, and occasionally grunt. Of the supporting characters there are few that pop out, aside from James Spader, who hams it up in grand fashion as a businessman with one of the worst Irish accents ever to grace the big screen. Meryl Streep makes a brief appearance towards the end, and while she’s typically great, she seems a little wasted on such a small part.
Jones directs with elegant simplicity, letting the performances and the scenery do most of the work. The story is relatively straight forward, but it rarely feels the need to conform to expectations. There’s one surprise twist in the second half that is particularly brave, and sees the story shift in an unexpected way. But thanks to the strong script and Jones’ control over the film’s tone, this turn doesn’t feel jarring or cheap.
Well not quite a classic of the genre The Homesman is a mature, well made Western with strong performances. Some might find the more disturbing moments a little gratuitous, but they are always in keeping with the story and the harsh nature of the period.