Tommy Lee Jones directs & stars in “The Homesman”. Besides disliking the title borrowed
directly from a novel of the same name, I would say that this film should be kept to the small screen. The action haltingly moves forward. The only cinematic offerings are a cool shot where three mad women cling to Mr. Briggs ( TLJ) in a rolling stream & a touching tribute to a perceptive main character Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) where she gives a literal thimbleful of water to a disturbed woman’s baby substitute, a rag doll.
What bothers me most about the film are the characterizations that seem like caricatures.
This film had me longing to re -teach Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” where the Nebraskan Territory kindled real people. The prairie fare of “The Homesman” is much more primitive : the screenplay poorly written. If you like reading the Dictionary of Mental Disturbances, you may like seeing live infants thrown in latrines,women mutilating & burning their skin,catatonic stares and asylum -like cat-moaning.
Cameo parts from Meryl Streep, James Spader and John Lithgow are almost distracting. Streep may have taken the part of a Methodist minister’s wife so that she could work beside her daughter, Grace Gummer. Gummer plays the youngest of three mad women claimed by the harshness of early prairie life. James Spader has another cameo that shows Capitalism at its worse and the ensuing revenge just as disheartening. John Lithgow’s talent is wasted on this poorly written script. And Hilary Swank’s surprise is more disappointing than enlightening.
This is a very depressing film that seems to underscore that flawed people never fully change, yet religious nods to compassionate care, baptism and communion are here. Sex is seen as “given” by loutish males who wish to sow their seed or to initiate the the virginal.Women being appreciated only for their beauty and their subservience is sad,too. “Too bossy & too plumb plain” are critiques that say more about the sayer than anyone else. Difficult water pumps, soundless piano crocheted mats, snoring lullabies, homemade cheese kept in pant pockets, and neglected proposals are all glum.
Some humor is seen. The calling of insane women “cuckoo clocks” is not as humorous as having the three crazies watch “love-making” under an animal skin that has been dislodged from a Native American’s burial wrap. Is this the fever that took Mary Bee?
Hilary Swank is good as Mary Bee Cuddy as “plain as an old tin pail”.Cuddy herself is maybe too good as she sees herself “living uncommonly alone”, and does ultimately ” hush herself up” along with the crazy women who miss their handsome parlors. Grave tending has been a Christian focus of Mary Bee’s, but though Mr. Briggs tries to emulate her beliefs, he lets her marker sail down stream.
Much of this two hour Western sailed downstream,too.