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The Homesman - Movie Review

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The Homesman - Movie Review


4 stars

Wanna get devastated? And I mean heartbroken to the nth degree, completely unable to crawl to the fridge for another beer. If so, then Tommy Lee Jones has the movie for you this holiday season. The Homesman, based on Glendon Swarthout’s 1988 novel, is a harrowing look at two different acts of goodness amidst the eternally echoing mid-19th-century Nebraska Territory. When a western turns the bleak into pure poetry, you know you are in for something rich and, in spite of a few minor hiccups, The Homesman is exactly that: sparse Americana poetry.

The Homesman is, as it opens, all about Mary Bee Cundy (Hilary Swank). This former east coast school teacher has come to the open plains to sow seeds of hope. She plows her own fields, makes her own meals, and keeps her modest home as tidy as she possibly can. She also makes do without her piano by silently practicing her hymn-playing abilities on her embroidered keyboard. She longs for a husband but no one will “put in” with her. She’s too plain; too practical.

Tough as her lonely life is, Mary Bee has it together and soon finds herself conscripted to escort three mentally fractured wives (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) to Iowa for care. She will need help and enlists a hard-drinking drifter named Briggs (Jones) to help her after saving his life. Adapted for the screen by Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, and Wesley Oliver, The Homesman also features an ensemble cast that includes Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, and James Spader.

While not as episodic as Jones’ previous directorial effort, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, there is a definite split in the narrative of kind-hearted Mary Bee and Briggs. It is a shift you won’t see coming but certainly echoes the fierceness of life for early settlers of the American Midwest in the 1850s – especially the women. It could be argued that The Homesman is the first western of its kind to tackle feminism head-on as it highlights the harsh conditions women, brave enough to come out to unconquered land, faced at the hands of nature and the men surrounding them who still wanted the beautiful wife to come home to.

This is another solid entry for the genre. As star-studded as the film is, The Homesman is so layered in authentic costumes that it will take you a moment to recognize its more noticeable actors. Swank and Streep absolutely disappear into their roles. Filmed in Georgia and New Mexico, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street) captures the mood and desolation of the saint and sinner’s journey with piercing exactness. Swank and Jones are a good duo and their chemistry together is magnetic.

The Homesman closes with a fierce ambiguity that, as unsettling as it will be for some viewers, completely captures the journey and the moment in American history. Jones has a film that is both progressive and traditional and it is that mixture that keeps The Homesman engrossing from beginning to end, feeling both familiar and otherworldly, as two people adventure across the plains in search of a place to call a home. 

The Homesman - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual content, some disturbing behavior and nudity.
122 mins
: Tommy Lee Jones
Writer: Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer
: Drama | Western
The Homesman
Memorable Movie Quote: "She thinks she's God."
Roadside Attractions
Official Site:
Release Date:
November 14, 2014 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

In 1855, three women are driven from their village and assigned to Mary Bee Cuddy, a native of Nebraska strong and independent pioneer.

On his way to Iowa, where women can find refuge, she crosses paths with George Biggs, a vagabond bumpkin she saves him from imminent death. They decided to join forces to face together the harshness and dangers that plague the vast expanses of the Border.

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