The Homesman Review


By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

The thing with books and movies is that they take us out of our everyday lives and put us into a world not of our own. It may be an animated world, a fantasy world, a world of terror, or a world of comedic proportion that you could only wish you could experience just by stepping out of your door. Other films take us back to time periods to which we have a hard time relating. One of these periods would be the proverbial “wild west”. Tommy Lee Jones, in his second directorial film, brings us a story from this time with The Homesman.

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is a former teacher who is now a frontierswoman. She is 31 years old and unmarried, living alone on a farm in Nebraska. She can plow a field, make a pie, and shoot a gun, but can’t find a husband due to her being “too bossy.” During a church meeting led by Reverend Alfred Dowd (John Lithgow), we learn three wives of the locals have gone crazy due to hostility in the area, the times, and the deaths of babies. Someone needs to take these women to Iowa so they can be cared for, and when none of the men in the town step up to the occasion, Cuddy decides she’ll do it. On her way out, she comes across George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), strung up by a noose. In exchange for his freedom, he agrees to assist Cuddy to Iowa on her journey.


The Homesman is so many things that it fails to focus on one and really develop that. It is a drama about a woman needing to find some purpose in her desolate life and it is a drama about a man needing to find his own redemption. At times, it is an adventure dealing with the perils that came along with living in this time and at other times it plays like a buddy comedy. And while each aspect is well-defined in its own right, there is a disjointedness, a lack of cohesiveness binding all of these elements together. But the main thing The Homesman is, or purports to be, is to follow the life of Cuddy and how she is going to evolve. But the film turns away from her personal development and instead has her attempt to reform Briggs and help him to grow with little reciprocity in return. And about two-thirds of the way through the film, an event happens which makes it hard to really want to continue with the rest of the film. It should be noted that this event is completely believable given the circumstances, but it really is a major blow to the story moving forward.

A good story is hard to tell without solid performances, and this one really revolves around Swank, primarily, and Jones, secondarily. Swank dives right into her role as a woman finding a lack of meaning and future in her life. Being the age she is and not having a husband was quite uncommon during this period (Jay-Z had yet to mention that 30 is the new 20, obviously). So not only does she have no male companionship, but the desperation in completing that aspect of her life has become stagnant. She also completes all of the chores a man would do, casting another negative light upon her. She is a woman looking for some meaning, a woman desperate for some semblance of normalcy or a brighter future, but realizing more and more that the life she pines for is but a far off dream. Jones, on the other hand, really doesn’t have to stretch his acting chops, and he doesn’t. It really is more of a disappointing role for Jones, seeing as how he is the director. He is there more to give some life to Swank’s character, for better or for worse.

The Homesman is a little hodge-podge of film genres thrown together, each done well enough but not quite enough to make the film as engaging as it should be. And the fact that it takes place in such a desolate area during a period of time which doesn’t necessarily pull audiences into the theater doesn’t bode well. Swank does what she can with the character, but with no real hope for her to grow from where she begins, the audience, too, struggles through her life. And with the big event two-thirds of the way through, marking a major shift in the direction of the story, things just aren’t as focused as they should be. It’s a nice effort from Jones with his directing, and kudos to Swank for her performance, but The Homesman is a story that should have been left where they found it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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