Film Review: The Homesman (★½)

homesman_ver3E tu, Tommy Lee Jones? The well respected veteran actor/filmmaker is very talented on both sides of the camera, as we all know, though in this particular instance I heavily call into question his directing and writing choices. The Homesman is a stunning misfire on almost every single level, nearly inept in fact at times. I really did not like just about every element of this movie, save for a few of the performances, which are solid enough but still nothing to write home about. This left me with such a foul taste in my mouth that I was almost in disbelief after the screening. A purported deconstruction of the western that more closely resembles a parody (besides utterly failing at being either feminist or progressive, despite obvious ambitions), The Homesman really isn’t something that I imagine Academy members will take to at all, but there’s always the chance that I’m just nuts. The reception it has gotten from my colleagues certainly suggests as much. Still, I’m firmly down on this one, particularly since all the flaws are just so readily apparent and annoying/distracting. Jones not only wastes himself, he wastes the likes of Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, and plenty of others as well. In fact, he also wastes two hours of our time to boot. The Homesman clearly was shooting for some Top Ten lists and Oscar consideration, but at least for me, it’s instead in contention for my Bottom Ten of 2014 list. Normally I can see what others like in a divisive work, but here I just can’t. It’s pretty much just awful through and through.

Again, this is a period western that also seeks to deconstruct the genre a bit as well. Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) is an independent and pious midwestern woman with a successful farm who all the same yearns for a husband. When the most recent object of her affection rebuffs her advances, she turns her attention instead towards assisting the town with the matter of three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) who have gone mad. They need to be transported across part of the country to Iowa via covered wagon and with few townsfolk up to the task, Cuddy volunteers, despite the urgings of the friendly town pastor (John Lithgow). When the journey begins to prove arduous, she comes across and employs a drifter named George Briggs (Jones) to work with her on the trip. Once they get to Iowa, a minister’s wife (Streep) is waiting and willing to care for the women, but the trip will be far from easy. The plains contain danger all over, including the women themselves. The third act of the movie takes a hard right turn, but if you’re like me, you’ll have already thrown up your hands in disgust by then.

The-Homesman-MovieI’ve never understood the bad rap that Hilary Swank often gets. Even in lesser work, she’s solid at the very least. Here, she’s given far less to do than a lead normally gets and is pushed to the side at a certain point in favor of a different character. To be fair, Swank does her best, but she’s portraying a strong willed and supposedly independent woman who can’t seem to meet a new man without proposing marriage. It’s not her fault, but it limits her effectiveness. Tommy Lee Jones is fair here as well, but it’s the sort of grouchy performance he always gives these days. I have more of an issue with his writing and directing here though, so I won’t harp on the acting. Jones however, is capable of more, trust me there. The three women aren’t given much to do but sit quietly, so despite the occasional flashback that shows their madness, the trio of Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter can’t leave much of an impression. Other supporting parts like the ones from John Lithgow and Meryl Streep are tiny and leave no mark either. The rest of the cast includes wasted talent like William Fichtner, Tim Blake Nelson, Jesse Plemons, James Spader, and Hailee Steinfeld, among others. No one can save this mess. Not even close.

Tommy Lee Jones once again shows off a knack for arresting visuals, but here they’re in the service of something way below par. His direction is full of odd choices and terrible editing, wasting the cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto. As problematic as his directing is, the adapted screenplay that Jones co-wrote with Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley A. Oliver is far worse. The decisions they made in crafting the script are often inexplicable. Without spoiling the film (though I don’t want you to see it, regardless), an unfortunate sex scene as well as most of the final scenes of the movie are incredibly stupid and work to erase much of what’s come before. Aside from Marco Beltrami‘s score (which does its job) and the aforementioned visuals that Jones got from Prieto, it’s all elements that just sink the work lower.

To be fair, I have a distinctly minority opinion when it comes to The Homesman, but I know that I’m not alone either. Frankly, it seems like some of my colleagues have seen the same movie as I and the others have all seen a totally different one. That’s just how it goes sometimes. Jones usually is more reliable behind the camera and everyone involved deserved better than they got. I see no reason why any of you should bother with The Homesman. I thought it was terrible and a waste of time. Alas.

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