Thursday, November 13, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Homesman

The Homesman
Directed by Tommy Lee Jones
Released November 14, 2014

Westerns don’t come along that often these days. It’s a genre that requires a certain energy to be accessible, otherwise it can feel like a long meandering journey. Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut – “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” – wasn’t quite a western even though it felt like one in some respects, and it makes sense that the Texas native would choose a western for his follow-up feature. Though it’s clearly an interesting topic for him, “The Homesman” is a grim and uninviting drama that proceeds at a slow and unenthusiastic pace.

This film’s title refers to a role to be fulfilled by some member of a small community in the Nebraska territory which involves the transportation of three women who have gone crazy to a church many miles away in Iowa. Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a single woman with a prominent position in town, volunteers to take on that job, and soon into her journey she rescues miscreant George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) from being hanged for squatting and enlists him to accompany her and follow her every directive. Excited by the notion of earning three hundred dollars for his work, Briggs hastily agrees, though he doesn’t share Cuddy’s passion and good heart.

The long, arduous trip is filled with misery as the three women are antisocial and unresponsive, occasionally attempting to run away or to defy the two people who are trying to transport them across territorial lines. It’s hard to find a character to like since Cuddy isn’t exactly agreeable and Briggs doesn’t manage to be likeable in spite of being despicable. A few twists along the way are predictable, while others don’t feel justified by the characterizations and events that precede them, instead inserted merely for unsubstantiated dramatic effect.

Jones is clearly having fun with his role, though he’s not putting in too much effort. Swank is trying hard to be as buttoned-up as possible, and it’s far from her most satisfying performance. James Spader and Meryl Streep show up in overdone small roles, while Hailee Steinfeld ranks as the film’s hardest-working performer. The story, based on the 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout, doesn’t purport to be an optimistic one, but there’s no redeeming value to be found in the ground it covers or the conclusion it reaches. Without much appeal, it’s hard to find this journey worth taking.


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