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The Homesman (2014)

Tommy Lee Jones
The Homesman
122 minutes
Tommy Lee Jones
Luc Besson
Peter M. Brant
Brian Kennedy
Screenwriters (based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout):
Tommy Lee Jones
Kieran Fitzgerald
Wesley Oliver

Cast includes:

George Briggs Tommy Lee Jones
Mary Bee Cuddy Hilary Swank
Arabella Sours Grace Gummer
Theoline Belknapp Miranda Otto
Gro Svendsen Sonja Richter
Altha Carter Meryl Streep
Reverend Dowd John Lithgow
Aloysius Duffy James Spader
Tabitha Hutchinson Hailee Steinfeld
Netti Nordstog Caroline Lagerfelt
The Freighter Tim Blake Nelson
Garn Sours Jesse Plemons
Vester Belknap William Fichtner
Thor Svendsen David Denick
Buster Shaver Barry Corbin



Tommy Lee Jones returns to the director's chair with a stripped down western after the brilliant The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, his previous cinematic feature. In The Homesman he strips away the old-fashioned romantic view of the west, and gives us a pragmatic look at settlers' life in the American Midwest of the 1850. Here people are battling an unforgiving climate and a barren soil living in mudbrick houses centered around an underpopulated town. They are pious, sombre and largely unsociable people, and the men who treat women well are few and far between. The story, adapted from a novel by Glendon Swarthout, revolves around a young spinster and farmer, played by Hilary Swank, whose industrious and dominant quality seems to turn potential husbands away. She's righteous and well-mannered, and seems to the local pastor (John Lithgow with a great beard/comb-over-combo) to be the best candidate for escorting three local women, who for various reasons have "lost their minds" as they say, back east in order to heal. After rescuing the life of an old claim jumper (Jones himself), she recruits him as a travel companion, and off they go, this unlikely quintet of people who are all more or less searching for themselves and/or the meaning of their existence.

Ever since Lonesome Dove, Tommy Lee Jones has played old westerners in a manner that suggests he was actually there back in the days, and that goes for his character here too. Helped by a layered performance by Swank, we're this time also getting a closer look at how life was like for women in this environment, and not women merely as wives, but as independent human beings. Unfortunately, the portrayal of the three so-called crazy women isn't equally impressive; they all come off a little too generic and we're never allowed under their skin or into their background, other than in small, underdeveloped snippets of flashbacks.

As an environmental portrait, The Homesman remains strong throughout our protagonists' journey, but dramatically it starts floundering halfway through, and there are one too many developments and incidents (among other things a game-changing suicide) which aren't adequately accounted for dramatically. Needless to say, this deters the effect and makes the film an unusual combination of erratic and slow-moving, leaving us with a little too much focus on Jones' own character whose indulgence ultimately gets in his own way. The Homesman is a flawed, but always interesting effort from director Tommy Lee Jones. I hope this isn't his last.

Copyright 3.3.2015 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang