Distilling the scattered plotlines of his promising directorial debut, Tommy Lee Jones returns to the big chair with The Homesman: a streamlined, sombre western which confirms his abilities with the megaphone, even if it does try a bit too hard. Hillary Swank plays Mary Dee Cuddy, a hardy, successful farmer in her early thirties who still hopes, perhaps in earnest, to wed. Everyone calls her bossy: it’s difficult to disagree. A cruel winter leaves three of her community’s young women in various degrees of mental disrepair and when their utterly useless husbands decide that enough’s enough, they draw to determine who will escort them to an asylum across state. Cuddy ends up with the job. She finds Tommy Lee Jones strung up to a tree and agrees to free him if he’ll come along for the ride.
There’s a sense Jones is fancying himself as quite the contemporary here, delving into subjects which classic Hollywood would have considered quite taboo, but, regrettably, these depictions of insanity are rather crude. Still, like an easy read, The Homesman is a film worth getting lost in; both in Rodrigo Prieto’s finely photographed landscapes, and in the deep contours of that magnificent, weathered face.
The Homesman | Directed by Tommy Lee Jones (USA 2014) with Hillary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones. Starts December 18.
Originally published in issue #133, December 2014.