The Homesman

The Homesman

In Theatres: 
Nov 21, 2014
Running Time: 
122 minutes
The wild west of the 1850s is mostly depicted as a man’s world. Men would be the ones tasked with any important duties while women primarily cleaned the house, cooked food, and made babies. Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is not one of those women, however. The Homesman explores what it was like living as a woman during these times, and while it offers up a narrative rarely seen on film, it also struggles to really take off and become something spectacular.

Mary Bee is a middle-aged, unmarried woman who has no trouble tending to her own farm, whether that means growing crops or raising animals. She’s become quite the strong and independent woman around town, so it comes as no surprise when she volunteers to travel across the state from Nebraska to Iowa with three insane woman in order to get them the help they need. While the plan originally had her traveling alone, she partners up with a George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), a man who was left to be hanged for stealing another man’s property. Rather than let him die, she gives him one chance to come along with her to help get these sick ladies to their destination safely.

The Homesman is your standard Oregon Trail affair as Mary Bee and George set out across the plains hoping they don’t run into any robbers, Indians, or any other number of obstacles that could keep them from making it to Iowa. While the two initially butt heads, they eventually learn how to deal with each other and actually become quite the pair. Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones are wonderful on screen, which is good because the majority of the film is about their journey together.

Swank and Jones are almost complete opposites. Despite her standoffish nature, Mary Bee is actually quite caring and good hearted. Meanwhile, George is a grouchy old man who is really only in it for the money he’s been promised. At least initially. Over the course of the film they both open up to each other. Mary Bee becomes more likeable and less plain, while George begins to actually care about someone other than himself for once. It’s towards the end where things start to fall apart, though.

About two-thirds into the film, Mary Bee prepositions George that they should get married because they make a good fit together. Despite turning her down - like all the men before him - they end up having sex that night in what can only be described as awkward. The next morning, Mary Bee commits suicide. It’s one of the strangest moments I’ve seen in film recently, because her death comes out of nowhere and is quite contradictory to the strong nature she showed up until this point. It feels completely out of place.

The remainder of the film follows George as he finishes what he started out on with Mary Bee, despite her no longer being their holding the reins. While it’s nice to see that George has changed over the course of the trip, the ending can’t help but be dissatisfying and rushed. George basically drops off the girls, spends what money he has on clothes and a gravestone for Mary Bee, and then departs in a drunken, singing fit. Roll credits.

The Homesman overall gets some great performances out of both Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones, but the final third of the film leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. It’s a shame, too, because the ride was going pretty smoothly up until that point.
Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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