The Homesman (2014)
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.
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.