Tommy Lee Jones is a clever individual, ostensibly an actor he can direct, write and produce and in the case of his latest project – all four at the same time. Although he did have the support of the great French filmmaker Luc Besson in the production of what has been called a feminist western by some commentators. The Homesman (2014) takes place in the 1850’s and is set in the Midwestern United States in Nebraska and Iowa. It’s based on the 1988 novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout who was also responsible for the source novel for John Wayne’s very last film The Shootist (1976) which had a screenplay co written by the novelist son Miles Hood Swarthout, which is coincidently about the last days of a dying gunfighter, played by the then dying Wayne.
As well as Tommy Lee Jones the movie features a great performance from Hilary Swank as Mary Bee Cuddy a proud strong middle aged spinster women who is an integral part of the Nebraska farming community, a women with land and “money in the bank” but who is unable to find her self a husband, accused of being “too bossy” and “too plain”. But when three poor women are deemed to have lost their minds it is decided to take them back East to their families to see if they can be ‘cured’. It’s Mary Bee who gets the job to transport the women on what is only expected to be a five-week journey! She rescues a man from being hung and enlists his help to drive the prison type coach and horses across a barren and treacherous country side, battling not only the weather and Indians but her ‘press ganged driver’ George Briggs (Jones) and three dangerously deranged women.
Admittedly not the normal subject for what is an unusual type of western but one that is certainly different. As well as depicting the harsh life of the early settlers the movie illustrates the effect this life it has on women and how it can not only result in physical bodily damage but also influence their mental well-being. The pressures of a forced marriage and the need to give birth to healthy children on a regular basis do nothing to help this problem.
The movie features an ensemble cast that includes Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, and James Spader. Cinematography is by the celebrated Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto who won an Academy Award for his camera work in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. Marco Beltrami is responsible for the films exceptional score. At times the film can be a disturbing watch but its real strength’s are the growing relationship portrayed on the screen between Mary Bee and George Briggs and Jones’s exploration of the ‘female condition in the mid 19th century American West’.
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