Homesman, The (2014)

Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Writers: Tommy Lee Jones (screenplay), Kieran Fitzgerald (screenplay),  Wesley A. Oliver (screenplay), Glendon Swarthout (novel)
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, John Lithgow, William Fichtner
Running Time: 122 mins.

I haven’t read Glendon Swarthout’s novel from which The Homesman is based but I’m willing to bet that Tommy Lee Jones and his fellow scriptwriters will get a nomination for best adapted screenplay in this year’s Academy Awards.  And if they don’t, they certainly should.

Filled with disturbing images of disease and the unimaginable hardships of frontier life in early America, The Homesman is truly a masterful work all around.

I was blown away by the uniqueness of the story and the characters as well as the powerful performances by Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones.

Swank plays Mary Bee Cuddy, a tough but lonely unmarried homesteader who works hard for her land and animals. She’s pious and unnaturally straightforward. The only thing she’s missing is a husband who’ll help ease the loneliness and workload and allow them both to prosper.

The sparsely populated town suffers a dilemma when three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) who have lost their minds as a result of the harshness of pioneer life can no longer be cared for by their husbands.  It’s the fiercely independent Mary Bee who steps up and agrees to transport them cross country by covered wagon to Iowa and a church that will take them in.   She in turn employs desperate low-life drifter George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) to assist her.  

The trek east is difficult and at times perilous but it’s the growing relationship between Mary Bee and Briggs countered by each’s stubborn independence that keeps our attentions as does how they come to cope with their crazy charges.  

Lotta says frontier life has never looked so strange, insane, heroic, sad and hopeful as it does here.   The Homesman is a powerful and stark film of contrasts in environments and temperaments wrapped in the truth of the times.