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REVIEW by Richard Rivera
The remarkable cinematography of The Homesman is as breathtaking and plain as an Andrew Wyeth painting with its crisp and austere desolation. It is a grim film, sparse as a haiku, and inhabited by eccentricity and weirdness that passes for acceptable behavior.
The film centers on the plight of three women in a frontier town (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) who have gone mad and the town’s decision to return the women to their familes back east where they can be cared for. The have gone insane due to the deaths of their children, the cruelty of their husbands and the harsh conditions of frontier life. Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank), a single unmarried woman who desperately seeks to marry, takes on the task of escorting them on the long journey home. Along the way she rescues a scoundrel claim jumper, George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), from the hangman’s noose under the condition that he assist her in the trip.
Briggs and Cuddy are a reluctant partnership of necessity, grimly determined to make the 5-week journey to Ohio through hostile territory.
There is no doubt that grief can give way to madness, but some of the strangest behavior in the story comes from supposedly normal civilized people. While it is imaginable that people in the 1850s, isolated in the unforgiving environment of the plains would gravitate towards the eccentric, the film makes the bizarre an everyday occurrence.
The Homesman is filled brilliant, pithy performances by a diverse cast that includes John Lithgow, Barry Corbin, James Spader, and Meryl Streep among others, including a spirited one by director by Tommy Lee Jones.
Jones’ direction paces the film in a slow and deliberate manner but the biggest obstacle for me was the premise that civilized folks who had come from the east could behave in such a brutal and strange manner. The scene where Briggs finds a prim and proper hotel in the middle of nowhere suggests the surreal, and makes one question the rootedness of the tale.
A startling change in the last third of the film strays beyond the unconventional and makes the story seem contrived and the fabrication of a writer striving for shock. I have not read the book by Glendon Swarthout but according to everything I have read, the book has been followed closely by the screenplay adapters, including Jones.
In the end I felt defrauded that such brilliant performances, outstanding cinematography, and great direction by Jones did not bring to fruition an outstanding story, but instead petered out to an ending that leaves us dissatisfied and grasping for meaning.
July 3, 2015
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