“You are a poor specimen of a man, Vester Belknap!”
I want to begin with a few positive critiques of Tommy Lee Jones’s latest film, which happens to be his fourth behind the director’s chair (he also stars in all these films as well). The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada was his only film released in theaters prior to this one since his other two films were made for TV. In The Homesman he returns to the Western genre, although it is very different. Instead of focusing on the macho cowboys we’ve seen perfectly represented by Clint Eastwood and John Ford, in this film we get the female’s point of view. The lead character is a singe woman who has battled the harsh conditions of the western wastelands on her own. This isn’t one of those macho western films, it is slow and tedious, focusing on the tension the women had to face in this period. In that sense, The Homesman is a fresh and original film. It also captures the harsh conditions of the wasteland extremely well. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is gorgeous and perhaps the main reason why I kept engaged with the film despite the tedious script. There are also plenty of surprises along the way and interesting twists that I didn’t see coming. The film definitely breaks several genre conventions and delivers something fresh, but it was just too bleak and grim for my liking. I had a difficult time staying awake and found myself dozing off in several occasions, but there are some great scenes along the way that brought me back in to the story. This is more of a western drama, but there are a couple action scenes that worked extremely well. Ultimately, there is a lot of interesting things that Tommy Lee Jones is doing here, but I just felt the tonal shifts and the melancholic setting were a bit too depressing for me.
The screenplay for The Homesman was adapted by Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, and Wesley A. Oliver from Glendon Swarthout’s 1988 novel. The story isn’t actually as interesting as the scenery and performances in this film. There are several tonal shifts and at times the film felt unbalanced. There were some funny scenes that worked well along with the action scenes, but other narrative elements didn’t resonate with me. This isn’t one of those films you will enjoy, but fans of the Western genre might appreciate this unique film. The Homesman is also elevated by the strong performances from Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones. The two have an interesting chemistry and they deliver solid roles. Their characters are as sombre and grim as the scenery, but they still manage to feel authentic and believable. They take us to this period and remind us it wasn’t all about cowboys and indians. The emotional element is also present and they are perfectly captured by Jones’s low life drifter and Swank’s hard working independent and honest character. The supporting cast is also exceptional, including Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, and James Spader, but none of their characters were given much screen time. Overall I had a difficult time staying awake because the narrative is tedious, but there are some positive elements about The Homesman.