The old west was kind of creepy.
Single, middle-aged women living all by her lonesome, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), is looking to make something of a name for herself, so when she hears about the opportunity to take three town’s crazy women all the way to Iowa, for something of a rehabilitation, she jumps right on it, even though most people don’t think it’s a job most suited for a woman. But that doesn’t faze Mary Bee, so she decides to travel to Iowa anyway! While on the trip though, she encounters a man by the name of George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), who was tied-up, hung, and left for dead by a group of men. She doesn’t know whether or not to trust him, but rather than just leaving him there, she decides to take him in under her wing and the two kind of work together. However, as the trip continues on, there begins to become more and more problems for the both of them, some that are near-deadly and life-changing.
Westerns can sometimes be incredibly hit-or-miss. Sometimes, they can be fun, exciting, bloody, brutal, and altogether, a meaningful tale that could have literally been in any other genre of film, yet, isn’t, which makes it all the more important of a film to watch. Then again though, they can sometimes be incredibly slow, boring, and not at all interesting, except if you like horses a lot. There’s hardly any in between with the genre; either you’re very good, or you’re just a downright snoozer.
But that changes a bit with the Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones’ second time behind the director’s chair, who does something neat with the genre that I haven’t seen in a long while.
For example, take the story itself, the fact that it’s main protagonist is a woman, is definitely shocking and new, but the fact that she isn’t one of these rough and rugged women who want to be just like the rest of the men, is all the more refreshing. But to make matters even better, she’s one of these strong, independent women who doesn’t want to be looked at in a judgmental, or demeaning way; she just wants to be treated like your or I. With that said, she also has the same feelings as you or I, and doesn’t want to be looked down upon for that reason, either.
In a way, Mary Bee Cuddy is the type of strong, free-thinking woman that the western genre has been waiting for all its life, and it’s only made better by the fact that Hilary Swank is quite good in the role, too. It’s been a long time since the last time we see Swank in something worth watching (or simply, something in general), and her performance here makes me wonder why that is. She’s always been a talented gal and one that’s made sure people know she’s willing to test her limitations as an actress. And even though this may not be the most demanding role of her career, it’s still a strong one that allows her to dig deeper and deeper into the psychosis of this Mary Bee Cuddy girl and show us that, underneath all of the brooding and tough love she presents on the outer-surface, she’s just a woman who wants to be loved, have a family, and be happy for the rest of her days.
On the other hand, Tommy Lee Jones plays something of a down-and-out bastard with George Briggs, and it’s not just a funny role, but a rich one that Jones works well with. Jones has played slime balls before, but this one’s different in that he feels like he’s a genuinely good guy when he’s given the right amount of inspiration to do so. Jones digs deep with this character, too, but it’s the chemistry between him and Swank that’s really the heart and soul of this movie and keeps it moving, even when everything around it seems to sort of slow down and just take its good old time.
Speaking of which, the movie may get a tad slow at times, but it was hardly ever boring for me. Super insane, for sure, but boring? Definitely not. Most of that is thanks to Jones’ insistence on never allowing this material to get as strange as you could imagine it getting. I’d sit back here and spoil every instance of weird occurrence, but to do so would be a total crime on my part and probably rob most of you of a movie that definitely deserves to be seen, wanting the best, but expecting the worst.
Because seriously, random characters will pop up, act strange, and then something even more wild will happen moments later. But the movie never over-does it in a way that feels gratuitous or over-the-top. Okay, maybe definitely the later, but the former, totally not. The weird stuff that happens here, actually feels like it would happen in this part of the West and allows us to get a glimpse of a certain place in time, we don’t see too many movies about. Makes sense why, but the more westerns we get like this, I can assure you, the better.
However, at the end of the day, the movie is still disappointing, especially when it comes to Jones and his way of figuring out what to make of this story. Though he seems to take some sort of pleasure in exploring the craziest, darkest depths of this strange world he’s created, he never knows what to make of it. Though some may say that there doesn’t need to be a message here, the fact remains that there should be and it was a bad decision on Jones’ part not to make that clear enough to us.
Then again, he did offer plenty good, so I guess I can’t rain on his parade all that much, either. I’ll just take it for what it is, and that’s a weird fuckin’ movie.
Consensus: Strange and eerie, yet constantly interesting, the Homesman is a refreshing change-of-pace for the western genre, without ever trying too hard to be seen as such.
7 / 10 = Rental!!