The Homesman, directed and starring Tommy Lee Jones is a western that feels true to its roots. This is a film that doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the time and is one that probably won’t leave you with the warmest of feelings at the end of it but is one that brilliantly brings you into the times and takes you on a journey across the lawless plains of America. The film is hampered by some wonky storytelling and a cast of characters who while they receive adequate screen time never really seem to hit the mark, but Homesman does do a competent job of bringing you along on its difficult and heart breaking adventure.
The Homesman is the story of the strong and independent Mary Bee Cuddy and her newly met employee George Briggs who are tasked with bringing three women who have been driven mad by the loss of their children and having to live in the remote plains of Middle America to a church in Iowa where they will be cared for and hopefully nurtured back to health. Their journey is plagued with countless threats and obstacles and not only their task but their resolve will be tested on the long 5 week journey.
What I loved in particular about Homesman is how unflinchingly raw this film was, this isn’t a film that leaves you with a good feeling at the end of it, director Tommy Lee Jones really dug deep into the grim reality of life in the plains of America, there aren’t many happy endings for people out in the middle of nowhere and this films shines a big uncomfortable light on that fact. Whether it is the people that our protagonists encounter on their travels or even on their very own door step or it is the situations that they must tackle, Homesman delivers a believable story on what it must have been like in those times. The uncompromising approach taken in this film is something that I very much appreciated and enjoyed.
The characters in Homesman are also believable to follow but also the clear dichotomy between the main duo is interesting, heart breaking and at times a little funny to watch. Mary Bee Cuddy who is played by Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Amelia) delivers a solid performance throughout the film and surprisingly leads a good chunk of it. The character of Mary Bee Cuddy is really interesting, a women who tends to her own farm and seeks a partner to help her run it but soon failing to do so she decides to take on the dangerous task of taking three disturbed women to a place of safety and rejuvenation. What interested me the most about this character was that despite all she had seen she was still someone who had her faith and looked for the good in people and this made for some interesting interactions with a place full of people who had clearly given up on sanity and morality. Like a lot of things in this film Mary Bee Cuddy’s story is one ultimately filled with sadness and regret and the way in which the film approaches it with once again a gritty honesty is refreshing and unexpected.
Accompanying Cuddy on her journey to see the three women get help is George Briggs, played by Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) who is a man that couldn’t be more different from her. His is also a story that never really warms the heart and is someone who comes loaded with the baggage of a man who hasn’t lived a good life. Watching these two very different people having to work together and try to contend with one another’s stubborn ways, delivered some of the most watchable moments in the film. Tommy Lee Jones performance is also a solid one and he really brings a level of believability to the character, the journey that his character goes on is one of the few moments of hope in this film (sort of). While he seems to redeem himself slightly the film does leave it open to interpretation at the end on whether he is a man set on the right path or not which I wasn’t the biggest fan of because I think the film needed a more well-rounded ending to it and not one that leaves the audience left hanging as much as it does.
Which leads on to one of my main gripes with the film which is that while the story is interesting it does lose its way at times and the slow nature of the film makes it so you’re a little lost as to what is going on. The Homesman jumps around a lot at the beginning and it doesn’t do it in a way that makes it clear to the audience, this then disrupts the pacing of the film and it means that things take a little while to get going. It isn’t until Cuddy and Grimes are under way with their journey that things settle down and become easier to understand and follow.
Couple that with the fact that tonally the film is all over the place, which results in a film that left me wondering what it wanted to be sometimes. There are scenes that seem like they’re supposed to be serious but from nowhere some misplaced humour is introduced and it throws off the whole feels of the moment, there were quite a few times in fact where I wasn’t sure if what was happening was supposed to be poignant or if it was some dark humour put there in the hopes of offsetting the depressing story that the film is telling. I really wish the film had a better sense of how it wanted to deliver its story because it is one that I really enjoyed following.
The Homesman is a film that won’t be for everybody, this is one that doesn’t shy away from what it a tough story and is a film that delves deep into the unfortunate truth of a time that is thankfully long forgotten but for people who miss the a good old western setting then this is absolutely the film for you.
That is why I recommend The Homesman, westerns are a genre of film that we don’t get much of anymore and Homesman is one that any western fan should definitely check out. The raw intensity and the interesting array of characters deliver a film that, while may be tough is still certainly worth the watch.