The Homesman

the-homesman-poster

With his second feature both behind and in front of the camera, the actor-turned-director Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men, Men in Black) seems to be following a path similar to Clint Eastwood’s.

Mr. Jones plays George Briggs, a low-life who, after being saved from hanging must help his savior Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) transport three crazy women across Nebraska to deliver them to an Iowa church.

Exploring the western mythology, Mr. Jones crafts very precise and austere works centering on unflattering aging and grumpy cowboys. And, in a way, the Homesman is pretty close to Mr. Eastwood’s Unforgiven, featuring identical themes (it’s no accident they both starred in Space Cowboys): first, there’s a long journey accompanied by a ragtag group (Ms Cuddy and her passengers are a substitute for Morgan Freeman and a kid). Then, there’s a late chance for redemption (both Jones and Eastwood’s characters are given the opportunity to do something good) and finally there are these bursts of ferocious rage (Mr. Jones setting an inhabited hotel on fire and Mr. Eastwood executing everybody in a saloon).

Mr. Jones’ artistic approach is however different from Mr. Eastwood’s. His stories are less violent but also darker whether it’s in terms of themes or tones. His vision of western is also very traditional while Mr. Eastwood’s affinity is closer Italian westerns.

While Mr. Jones had exhibited solid talent in his debut, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, I was particularly surprised by the great visual beauty showcased in The Homesman. His use of photography and scenery finely reflect the story’s despair and whether he shows the vast emptiness of the landscape or a field filled with dead cows, his images are a metaphor for the characters’ inner state. He can also be credited for not creating self-serving movies: not only is Mr. Briggs flawed and somewhat pathetic but he also gives his onscreen partners the chance to shine – Ms. Swank has the strongest role and performance here.

As for the story, it is straightforward, bare and at times probably too slow but a couple shocking moments and some welcome doses of humor come shatter this linear storytelling before reaching a low-key bittersweet ending.

A minor but assured work, The Homesman confirms Mr. Jones’ talent as a filmmaker, most likely paving the way for more ambitious features to come.

Director:Tommy Lee Jones – Actors:Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones – Running Time: 2:02 – Year: 2014 – Country: USA

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.