Sometimes, it’s only a matter of time before an actor goes from being just an actor and moves into the director’s chair. This usually happens as the actor gets older, and Tommy Lee Jones is already ahead of the pack of would-be directors, The Homesman being his fourth film as a director. Jones is a triple threat, directing, co-writing, and acting in his own film, but it is mostly Hilary Swank who steals the show, with Lee Jones playing a grouchy character, not very much unlike roles he’s played in the past.
Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is educated, smart, and independent. She is a strong woman, but is criticized as being plain and bossy when it comes to finding a husband. Immediately, our sympathy lies with her. She’s smarter than everyone in the Nebraska territory, having moved from upstate New York and makes due. There are 3 women in the town who have gone insane; one has killed her child, another is constantly raped by her husband and pressured to give him a son, and the final is also somehow verbally and physically abused in some way or other.
When the local minister (John Lithgow) tasks the husbands of the insane women to take them from Nebraska to Iowa, they all lose their nerve. Instead of volunteering, they draw to see who will go, with Mary Bee Cuddy taking the place of one of the husbands. She ends up drawing the short end of the stick and braves herself to take on the mission with no help from any of the men. A local outlaw named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) is found left for dead by Mary and in return for saving his life, he accompanies her on her journey across the states to their destination.
The Homesman is unfortunately all over the place. It starts off well enough, the first fifteen minutes giving us a glimpse of the potential that might come, but we’re never privy to the realization of this potential. The plot is paper thin. We’re given no real development on anything, the least of all being the characters. Jones shows us bits and pieces of the insane women’s lives, but they feel tacked on and come at abrupt times so they are more distracting than they are helpful in advancing the plot.
The entire film is pretty anticlimactic, with the majority of it spent on the wagon ride from Nebraska to Iowa. They come across Native Americans, whom Jones shoos away with an offering of a horse and makes them out to be entirely stupid with the scene being wholly unnecessary. They come across an attempted kidnapper and rapist who tries to run off with one of the insane women but gets caught by Jones. And there’s a scene of Swank re-plotting the grave of a young girl, but gets left behind briefly before finding Jones and the women again. This is all meant to build suspense and tension, I’m sure, but it winds up being boring and a waste of time.
Only Swank’s character is semi interesting, that potential mentioned earlier sparking occasionally but never quite seeing the light of day. Then we have Tommy Lee Jones’s character, who looks like the incarnation of most of his previous characters rolled into one. He doesn’t really do much for most of the film, but in the final forty minutes or so, he kind of takes over and becomes too overbearing without needing too, basically being himself just to be himself.
You’d also think that being on the frontier and in the middle of empty land where anything can happen, something would, in fact, happen, but no. There are no interesting conversations, no intrigue, no characters worth caring for, so the entire film just unravels. Ultimately, the film is boring, tiresome, and is really hard to sit through, especially given its 2-hour runtime. Even Hilary Swank’s acting and Meryl Streeps small role don’t do enough to save this film. Tommy Lee Jones isn’t capable as a director to create a full-fledged narrative that flows together. The Homesman is unfortunately a painful film to watch and goes absolutely nowhere in its plot.
Director: Tommy Lee Jones | Screenwriters: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley A. Oliver | Cast: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, John Lithgow, Meryl Streep, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, William Fichtner | Genre: Drama | MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual content, some disturbing behavior, and nudity