Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Homesman (2014)

A bit of a belated blog post/review for The Homesman, a film I watched last month. Having watched it, I now want to see Tommy Lee Jones in one of these T-Shirts

The Homesman is an adaptation of a novel by Glendon Swarthout, directed by, co-written by and starring Tommy Lee Jones himself. It is a revisionist western, and hailed by some as a feminist western - hence my desire to see Jones clad in that attire. But whilst its heart is certainly in the right place in both respects it does occasionally slip away from those earnest and admirable feminist intentions. 

When three women are decreed to have lost their mind as a result of sever trauma in the desolate Nebraska territory of 1850s, it falls to Hilary Swank's plain and capable spinster Mary Bee Cuddy to escort them to back East to civilised and secure Iowa. Whilst Cuddy has flinty determination and spirit by the bucketload she is acutely aware that she needs an experienced man to aid her in the journey so, when she encounters a grizzled wretch by the name of George Briggs (Jones), she duly enlists him in her task.

There are two types of western; the traditional and the revisionist and my heart belongs primarily to the latter. As a result I lapped up the bleak, strange tale Jones offers up, marvelling at its equally harrowing and amusing parts. Beautifully sombrely shot by Rodrigo Prieto, this is a chilly look at the old west which doesn't seek to paint a pretty picture, preferring instead to focus on the very real hardships and dangers faced for the frontiers people of the 19th-century.

But Jones isn't averse to paying a debt to the more traditional trappings of the western genre either and, in its central opposites attract partnership of his roguish but essentially decent Briggs and Swank's brilliantly portrayed Cuddy, he has a dynamic that harks back to the classics like The African Queen, True Grit and Rooster Cogburn. It's just a shame that the tale's shocking and surprising turn has to occur because, from that moment on, the previously strong mould breaking intentions fall away. The spirit remains but its a startling omission which makes the film lose out in the long run for me personally. 

Nevertheless, as Jones proved with The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, he is an interesting and strong filmmaker not too different from that other great western star who took his place both in front of and behind the camera; Clint Eastwood. He gets the best out of his accomplished cast which includes Meryl Streep's daughter and former star of The Newsroom Grace Gummer in a key role as one of the 'madwomen' and Streep herself in a small cameo near the end. Look out too for the Coen brother's True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld in all too brief role. Like that suitably grubby, authentic remake, The Homesman is one of the best of the modern westerns.

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