In 1988 Glendon Swarthout released a novel titled ‘The Homesman’, a harsh tale on life in the 1850’s Midwest and the difficult task of a homesman whose job it was to take immigrants back if they couldn’t survive. In 2014 actor Tommy Lee Jones teamed up with Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley A. Oliver and turned the novel into a screenplay and film. Tommy Lee Jones would in turn direct this film, and bring to life a world that isn’t as full of wild excitement and fun adventures that we’ve all come to believe. Now on Netflix you can experience this film.
This realistic and bleak parable tells the story of three pioneer woman who have been driven mad by personal tragedy brought on by the hardships of struggling to survive in the nation’s “breadbasket”. Mary Bee Cuddy, a thirty one year old single woman strong and hard as the life she has been given is picked to accompany these three poor woman back to Iowa, a job usually performed by men. Mary meets George Briggs, a selfish weasel of a man about to be hanged, played by Tommy Lee Jones. In exchange for saving his life Briggs agrees to accompany Mary on her quest.
‘The Homesman’ pulls no punches and shows you the truthful desolation of life in the barren Midwest. Tommy Lee Jones direction attests to how alone settlers were, how nearly impossible it was to make a life, and how quickly you can be forgotten and cast aside after all your struggles. He shows you a real west where it wasn’t always wild, just lonely. He does an extraordinary job telling the plights of traveling back east with out dragging out scenarios. He shows you the issue of the moment and moves on. It’s tricky though because sometimes the scenes do seem to be cut too short. The signs of class struggles are evident. The film also reminds viewers a woman’s place in this time period, and how society viewed her if she chose to act differently. Along with a captivating and emotional story the film is loaded with an abundance of talented actors like John Lithgow, James Spader, and Meryl Streep, who show you what a true craftsman can do, even in a small role. Hilary Swank is use to playing the tough girl fighting against the odds so that’s nothing new. But she also brings sadness to her role as Mary. You feel bad for her in her struggles, but you still respect her as a tough woman. As George Briggs Tommy Lee Jones will astound you in a very different role. Sure there’s still a little of the gruff old man there, but Jones shows he can portray a selfishness and buffoonish man just as well. All three actresses playing the mentally incapacitated woman will gain your pity, shock you, and sometimes even scare you.
There are a few shocking character moments that viewers may find disturbing and inconceivable after getting to know them through the course of the film. Other character’s developments have you smiling with pride. For a western many viewers may find the lack of gun fights and shoot-outs unsatisfactory. The end of the film seems to drag a bit as Jones tries showing that happy endings are not always as happy as we hoped they would be. Still, ‘The Homesman’ is a well done western with savage truths about settlers hoping to for a better life. A definite must see for the acting, the direction, and the reality.