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The Homesman, a Captivating Drama of the Old West (Film Review)


HOMESMAN poster 1




Review by John Delia

So you’re not into the western genre? How about calling this movie a very compelling drama that takes place in the 1800’s west. Still not excited about seeing the film? Top it off with a stellar cast, an original story line and actors that give Oscar worthy performances. Titled The Homesman, it’s Tommy Lee Jones’ first attempt at directing and he makes the film an excellent story of early Americana.

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a single woman living off her 100 acres of claimed property in the Nebraska Territory in the 1850’s, has survived the harshness of the unforgiving land for quite some time now. Hard working and bound to live a life on her own, she finds herself in difficulty from the loneliness it brings. Her neighbor Bob Giffin (Evan Jones) has been able to make it on his spread for years and often takes advantage of Mary’s cooking and company. Her bossy persuasion however, has not given her the edge in bringing about a marriage between the two.

Three women in the area become mentally disturbed during the devastating winter (Grace Gummer as Arabella Sours, Miranda Otto as Theoline Belknap, Sonja Richter as Gro Svendsen) and their husbands are asked to choose which one will take them the several months trip to Hebron, Iowa for treatment. The husbands draw lots to decide on who takes the women the long distance with Mary Bee sitting in for one of the men who finks out. Getting the draw, Mary Bee decides to take the trip in place of the despondent husband. Along the way she meets up with claim jumper George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) and makes a deal with him for help in driving the wagon.

Hillary Swank as Mary in THE HOMESMAN

Hillary Swank as Mary in THE HOMESMAN

So begins the long and arduous journey that will change the lives of Mary and George forever. Jones sits in the director’s chair for the first time and I’m not surprised at The Homesman’s on its way to being an western classic. His long career being in front of the camera lens has made him a natural much like it did for Clint Eastwood. He does a terrific job of guiding his fine cast, getting spectacular shots and delivering an outstanding tale that will leave a lasting effect long after the credits roll.

Several of the cast members should be considered for honors in the upcoming Oscars. I especially like Hilary Swank as the determined woman who’s desperate for companionship and will do anything to achieve her goal. Thus far of the performances by an actress in a leading role I’ve seen this year, she ranks high in my top five.

George (Tommy Lee Jones) and Mary (Hillary Swank) share a campfire

George (Tommy Lee Jones) and Mary (Hillary Swank) share a campfire

The ensemble cast does a terrific job of depicting the support characters of husbands, the three insane women, Indians and prairie bandits. Grace Gummer stands out as the young wife Arabella who loses it after her child dies of diphtheria. She retreats to a childlike woman who cannot cope with the ordeal she’s going through on the long trip. The most haunting performance comes from Sonja Richter as Gro Svendsen a frail woman whose husband rapes her consistently in an attempt to get her pregnant. In her fine performance Richter presses the psychologically disturbed button and never lets it go.

The cinematography of the western countryside, the small town where the initial first chapter takes place, campfires and the claustrophobic box buckboard in which the women are being transported are nicely depicted. Each encounter along the journey gets a lot of camera attention and the close-up camerawork becomes part of the story. Add to this the period costumes, make-up and special effects for the perfect captivating drama.

Tommy Lee Jones directs a scene for THE HOMESMAN

Tommy Lee Jones directs a scene for THE HOMESMAN

The Homesman has been rated R by the MPAA for violence, sexual content, some disturbing behavior and nudity. There are scenes of rape and self-injury by cutting. Please be very cautious when wanting to bring children under the age of 17 to the movie as they may become traumatized by some of the scenes.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A remarkable acting exhibition with fine direction and story. (A)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, Evan Jones, Jesse Plemons and Meryl Streep
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
Genre: Drama, Western
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual content, some disturbing behavior and nudity
Running Time: 2 hrs
Release Date: December 6, 2014
Distributed by: Roadside Attractions

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