Complete A-Z list

Homesman, The


Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, David Dencik, William Fichtner, Grace Gummer, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, Jesse Plemons, Sonja Richter, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, Meryl Streep

Director: Tommy Lee Jones

The setting is a bleak, harsh and depressing slice of the Wild West where unmarried frontier woman Hilary Swank saves a life by rescuing reprobate claim jumper Tommy Lee Jones from imminent lynching in exchange for his escorting three young women driven mad by the horrors of frontier life by wagon to safety in Iowa.

In synopsis, The Homesman might well seem to be simply another formulaic Hollywood Western carefully crafted for a John Wayne-style star.

Fortunately, thanks to a strong, surprisingly cruel screenplay (co-written by director-star Tommy Lee Jones with Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver, and based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout) and matching direction, cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto) and acting (with the painful exception of Meryl Streep) the film creates a strong impression of the endemic pain of frontier life.

Jones and Swank dominate the story, the former cleverly combining comic schtick with credible hardness as befits a hardened frontiersman, while Swank doesn’t play the star but comes across as less a than glamorous but entirely convincing frontierswoman inevitably acclimatised to hard times and even harder decisions.

The three psychologically traumatised young wives who have been declared insane, Miranda Otto for throwing her infant down the toilet, Sonja Richter who is apparently possessed by demons, and Grace Gummer, whose three children died from diphtheria are well cast and credibly played.

Gummer deserves additional praise for sensibly using her mother, Meryl Streep’s, married name since Streep gives the sole poor performance in the film, hamming hard as if she were pranking Little Women and going so far over the top I half expected to see airborne buzzards circling her head.

Fortunately her embarrassing turn comes near the end of an otherwise strong show that vividly depicts the Wild West to be considerably harsher and realistic than most Hollywood oaters.

Alan Frank

USA 2014. UK Distributor: E One. Colour.
122 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 01 Dec 2014