The Homesman

***1/2

Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Way out west: Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones in The Homesman.
"Jones spares none of the gory details in his depiction of the way the West really was."

This is the West as you have rarely seen before it – from a female perspective, with Hilary Swank playing a feisty single woman in her late thirties who is charged with escorting three highly disturbed young women across the plains to “civilisation” and refuge.

It represents a tour de force for Tommy Lee Jones (last in Cannes with The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) as he is the co-star, director and co-writer of the screenplay adapted from the novel by Glendon Swarthout.

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Jones plays an ageing rough diamond, who finds a sort of redemption when he is cajoled at gunpoint in to helping Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) and her fragile cargo to find succour with Meryl Streep as a pastor’s wife.

She’s a woman who has landed in the back of beyond (she grew up in New York) and cannot see a way of escape. She is lonely and desperate to find a husband and have children, which leads her to make improbable proposals to almost any potential eligible male in the vicinity.

She sees what the environment and desolation can do to the three frontier women whom the local preacher Down (John Lithgow) entrusts into her charge. They are scarred by unsympathetic husbands and the loss of children, as well as the physical tolls of the daily grind.

Jones spares none of the gory details in his depiction of the way the West really was as he and Swank begin their journey in an atmosphere of mutual distrust – until various incidents en route make them bond in unexpected ways.

The film not only displays true grit but reverses the usual Western clichés of heading West to concentrate on a trek in completely the opposite direction – towards “civilisation.”

Visually it looks magnificent with never-ending horizons, snow blowing in the wind and stunning set-pieces, such as the torching of the newly built hotel in the middle of nowhere which refuses to take them in.

Nobody knows this territory better than Jones, who deserves serious consideration for one of the Festival prizes next Saturday.

Reviewed on: 18 May 2014
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The Homesman packshot
Two pioneers unite to escort three mentally ill women from Nebraska to Iowa.
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Director: Tommy Lee Jones

Writer: Kieran Fitzgerald, Tommy Lee Jones

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter

Year: 2014

Runtime: 122 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Cannes 2014

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