The Homesman
dir Tommy Lee Jones
scr Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley A Oliver
prd Luc Besson, Peter Brant, Brian Kennedy
with Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, John Lithgow, Meryl Streep, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, Jesse Plemons, David Dencik, William Fichtner, Tim Blake Nelson
release US 14.Nov.14, UK 21.Nov.14
14/US Europa 2h02
The Homesman
On the road again: Swank and Jones

lithgow streep spader
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Homesman A fascinating depiction of life in the wilds of 19th century America, this film has a story and characters that get under the skin, although the tone is rather too straight-faced for its own good. And while it's very nicely played, it's difficult to understand how these characters' experiences resonate in today's world.

In Nebraska, the strong-willed Mary Bee (Swank) just about copes on her own with the intensely harsh conditions, but three local wives (Gummer, Otto and Richter) have been driven crazy by it. When their husbands (Plemons, Fichtner and Dencik) give up trying, Mary Bee volunteers to escort the women to civilisation. The local pastor (Lithgow) insists she finds a homesman to accompany her on the five-week journey, so she drafts the rapscallion George (Jones). On the road, they encounter Native Americans, an interfering interloper (Nelson) and a cold-hearted hotelier (Spader), among other potentially life-threatening incidents.

Swank's Mary Bee is no-nonsense and self-sufficient (she's as good a man as any man hereabouts, says one local). She's also so holier-than-thou that it's no surprise that she can't find a husband. But these women test her mettle: Gummer's Bella is shellshocked, Otto's Theoline won't stop moaning and Richter's Gro is violently delusional. Jones provides a welcome contrast as the snappy, snarky opportunist, the only genuinely likeable character on-screen.

Striking cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto vividly positions the characters in the bleak setting, while Marco Beltrami's score plays with Western themes to shift the mood around. Despite some bristly attitude, the film takes Mary Bee's humourless approach to everything. A few freaky, hard-to-watch flashbacks add to the unsettling tone, while the mentally unhinged trio and the foreboding landscape make this journey feel hellish, even if there are soft hints that just getting away from home has helped start the healing process.

There are also some shocking twists in the tale that make the story solidly involving. Even so, as the plot cycles through a series of gripping ups and downs, plus an extended epilog, there doesn't seem to be much point to it all. Perhaps it's that human decency can survive in the most savage environment, but only with a bit of cultivation. Or maybe it's a story about just what it takes to redeem a man who was lost.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 10.Nov.14

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