The Homesman

“Tommy Lee Jones shows some true storytelling grit in this superbly watchable frontier western; he has a muscular and confident command of narrative, driving the plot onward, and easily handles the tonal swings between brutal shock, black comedy and sentimentality. Jones stars, directs and has co-written the screenplay.

“Jones plays the ageing rough-diamond George Briggs. This boozy old army deserter finds redemption in the company of the courageous, lonely frontierswoman Mary Bee Cuddy, played with dignity and charm by Hilary Swank. Swank's Mary Bee is an educated woman whose people are from New York State. She is strong, resourceful and reasonably well off. Yet she is also lonely and maladroit, with a forthright habit of suggesting marriage to eligible menfolk which scares them, and gets her a reputation of being "bossy". At a low moment in her emotional life, the local preacher Dowd (John Lithgow) confides in her the news that three frontier women have gone insane through the hardship and desolation of their existence; poverty and the death of children have sent them over the edge.

“Mary Bee volunteers for the dangerous task of carrying the three madwomen, chained up in a wagon, on a six-week journey across  to Ohio, where a churchwoman has agreed to take them. But Mary Bee needs someone to ride shotgun. She comes across the reprobate Briggs and through a mixture of threats, schoolmarmish lectures and bribes induces Briggs to help her on this terrible journey. They begin their quest in a mood of mutual resentment and suspicion. And then, inevitably, there is a softening — but with unexpected twists.

“This is a frontier tale with something of the classic style, but also a consciously grimmer, austerer feel. The metaphorical dimension of their ordeal is plain and yet un-stressed. The madwomen in the wagon indicate that madness is not in fact confined to these three: madness is all about, and perhaps imprisonment is all about as well.

“Briggs has come to terms with the pain in his heart through occasional bouts of drinking, wild singing and dancing. Poor Mary Bee does not quite know how to deal with her own suppressed pain and loneliness.” - The Guardian


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