Written and directed by, and starring, Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman tells the tale of Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a spinster who is a wealthy land owner in the rural frontier. When three mentally unbalanced wives disrupt domestic life in this small community, a preacher (John Lithgow) approaches Miss Cuddy. The two determine that the three wives must be transported east toward civilization. After recruiting the scoundrel named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) to be “the homesman,” the five disparate characters travel east to Iowa.
Along the way through the barren wilderness, the five encounter rain, snow, sleet, hail, bandits, Apaches and their own existential loneliness. As they draw closer to their goal, one strong member of this party encounters their personal heart of darkness.
With such a simple narrative and unique characters with conflicting motivations, The Homesman keeps the audience guessing until the final credits roll. This film unfolds like a John Ford epic western, but tainted by modern day sensibilities. There are many shots of wide open places and the cinematography is beautiful. There is a darkness to this film, much like No Country for Old Men, but there is no denying that Tommy Lee Jones has directed his best film yet.
While Jones’ acting is not much of a stretch from the curmudgeon characters that he usually plays, he has managed to surround himself with first rate talent. Meryl Streep is given a maternal cameo, while her daughter, Grace Gummer, portrays one of the mentally ill wives. Both are convincing and help bring some heart to the film’s climax.
The Homesman is held together by Swank’s tough performance. This actress has won two Oscars for portraying vulnerable women who exude strength under duress. Her Mary Lee Cuddy is no exception and her performance is earning critical buzz just in time for award’s season.
Like the Glen Campbell documentary I’ll Be Me, The Homesman is a good movie, but with underlying sadness.