Tommy Lee Jones’ newest film, The Homesman, is an interesting mix of love story, action and dark comedy with a heartbreaking twist three quarters of the way into it. One I did not see coming and it threw me for a loop.
The film stars Hillary Swank as Mary Lee Cudy, a single lady who is desperate for a husband and as the film opens she is conversing with a farm hand whom she wants to marry. He refuses, so depressed as she is she agrees to drive three women who are accused of horrific crimes across the country to a mental institution. Cudy is fierce, tough and independent but still craving a man’s touch. She is not ugly, but she is described as being ‘plain as a bucket’. One can only imagine her personality is the reason she cannot find a suitor. En route to their destination, the group happen upon a drifter that has been strung up a tree with a hangman’s noose while still sitting on an animal. He begs and pleads Cudy to save him and she does with one condition. The drifter, George Briggs (Jones), must help her navigate through hostile open country chock full of Indians, robbers, three crazy women and now a lazy boozer in the form of Briggs. “I’m afraid this is more than I have bargained for, Ms. Cudy” But she holds him to their agreement, in addition he will be paid $300.00.
The prairie is still untamed, fraught with danger and provides the group with no shortage of perils, which could have been boring and filled with cliches, but Jones is as good behind the camera as he is in front. His direction is smoothly confident and the script by Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver, based on the novel Glendon Swarthout, is sweet, sentimental and lightly comic at times. I enjoyed the company of this group of misfits as they all seem to have fallen on hard times, seem destined to lead unhappy lives but, they become sympathetic towards one another as the film progresses. Jones never forces the emotional bonds they form so we genuinely care about these characters as people. There is a big twist about three quarters of the way through The Homesman. It is major and one I did not see coming. Trust me, you will know when you see it. I will not say anything further about the plot but The Homesman struck me as a quietly effective film about lonely souls who find kindred spirits with other lonely souls even in the harshest conditions. It is about dealing with pain and what we seek in others to ease that pain. On that personal level The Homesman works and it entertains us in the process.