The Homesman demonstrates Tommy Lee Jones on a late career hot streak

Understated and hopelessly pessimistic, The Homesman falls squarely in the recent trend amongst westerns for quiet introspection shot through with savage violence harking back to Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Best Picture winner, Unforgiven.

Hilary Swank plays a farmer, living alone in the wild Nebraska territories who volunteers to transport three unstable women back to the civilised west. Dignified and outwardly strong yet showing real depression and vulnerability, Swank will be in with a good chance of success come awards season. Similarly excellent is Tommy Lee Jones (who also directs), a condemned man whom she rescues on the condition that he accompany her. The final act of the film rests squarely on Jones’ shoulders and he nails it, demonstrating yet again (after No Country for Old Men and Lincoln) that he is on a late career hot streak.

The film’s stunning cinematography also perfectly captures the bleak beauty of the open American plains and confirms that, when it comes to westerns, there are few directors better than Tommy Lee Jones.

Its unrelenting pessimism does make The Homesman a gruelling viewing experience that is not for everyone, however. Characters commit suicide, children are killed and rapists go unpunished. There is little in the way of comic relief and no firm resolution by the end credits. The final few scenes deal with Jones’ character going to lengths to acquire an object of great personal value to him. He gets it, but unnoticed by him it is nonchalantly thrown from a boat he is travelling on making his whole endeavour futile: an appropriately blunt summary of the film’s cynical message.

Peter Brearley
Image: Saban Films

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