The Homesman movie poster
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The Homesman
The Homesman movie poster

The Homesman Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

Hilary Swank plays a plain woman no one wants to sleep with and Tommy Lee Jones also plays himself in The Homesman, a different kind of western that is surprisingly effective until it sort of peters out toward the end.

Swank stars as Mary Bee Cuddy, an overly assertive and independent woman-going-on-30 who is not looked upon as a prime marriage material in the Old West. So, lacking husband or even fuck buddy prospects, she agrees to transport three mentally incapacitated women (read: cray crays) to an asylum of sorts in Kansas City--and ends up enlisting the help of curmudgeonly sort-of criminal/drifter George Briggs (Jones).

Though set in the Old West, the movie is more about the mental state of people, especially women, in such a setting. Jones, who directed the film, presents bleak but beautiful landscapes that serve as backdrops for the bleak but richly developed characters. Swank nails her role and is the perfect choice to bring her character, and her devastating character arc, to life. She and Jones have very good chemistry together.

Unlike a lot of westerns, The Homesman doesn’t have much in the way of shootouts or action or anything of the sort. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of excitement, but Jones develops tension in other ways. The movie’s methodical pace can inch into overly slow at times, but The Homesman is never boring.

The movie’s most memorable scene is also its most tragic, a wonderfully done moment that seemingly comes from nowhere but in hindsight makes perfect sense. The Homesman, you realize, exists to build to this exact moment. It’s a fabulous piece of filmmaking.

Unfortunately, the story continues on for another while after this moment, all of it suddenly seeming like an extended denouement that didn’t need to exist. The ending, or the film’s lack of one, does hurt the film’s overall impact, though its weak conclusion only partially takes away from the rest of the story.

The Homesman is a good, albeit slow-paced movie, that simply attempts to tell a story that ends well before the screenplay does. Despite its problems, the movie is a well crafted, well acted and somber look at the psychological impact of pioneer life.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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