Not For The Faint Of Heart
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Barry Corbin, William Fichtner, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter and Hailee Steinfeld
Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Scriptwriters: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley A. Oliver from the novel by Glendon Swartout
Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto
Composer: Marco Beltrami
Rating: R for violent scenes
Running Length: 120 Minutes
The Great Plains of America was not a kind place to early settlers. Men could hunt, fish, drink and that was expected of them. Women stayed at the homestead, planted gardens, bore children, ate whatever was available and just stared at the never-ending landscape, while waiting for a tornado or blizzard to cut them down. Many women did not make it and either died, to be replaced by another young bride, or went mad and shipped off to an insane asylum. “The Homesman” is the story of three women who went mad on the prairie and of the attempt to help them with gentler ways than an asylum. Tommy Lee Jones directs and is one of the stars of the film (as Briggs) , playing a roustabout who is coaxed into helping the other star of the film, Hilary Swank (as Mary Bee Cuddy), take the women from Nebraska and into Iowa to a safe place. It is not a gentle movie.
The film opens showing Cuddy as the owner of her own prosperous farm on the prairie and respected by the townspeople as reliable, religious and kind-hearted. The pastor (John Lithgow) has three young women who have gone mad with various circumstances, from losing children to diphtheria to depression. Their husbands don't want them so the women are to be sent to a safe place in another state (to live with another minister) in Iowa. Who to take them? It falls to Cuddy, and then she manages to coax the rough Briggs into helping her with the promise of money. An enclosed wagon is made and the group of five starts out on a trip of over five weeks. They encounter Indians, storms, personal problems and keep on going, though the trip is taking a toll on everyone. In flashbacks, we see the stories of the three woman, Cuddy and Briggs, and begin to sense the loneliness of Mary Bee Cuddy, who is not an attractive woman.
Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is wonderfully done and the prairie looks beautiful, but we know it can be a desperate place, too. Marco Beltrami has quite a music score, from folk music dances to ballads of the day (latter 18h Century), and even a wind piano, with a gentle eerieness. Tommy Lee Jones direction gives the audience the sense of the large prairie and the of the people living there. The wagon and horses are just a speck against the sky and horizon. Violence comes from settling scores with an old-fashioned type of chivalry. Sometimes, it is hard for a director to star in his film, but not this time. It is out of the ballpark here.
Hilary Swank is not afraid to delve into the role of Cuddy with toughness and kindness in one person. Though her character when dealing with men, is stoic, with women, she is gentle to their predicaments. Tommy Lee Jones is a rough man, a personage he has played many times before, but he can break through with a kind thought and knows where to draw the line. For the rest of the cast, there are surprise cameo’s and you will recognize them right away. The three broken women are played by Grace Gummer (daughter of Meryl Streep), Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter. Their plight is well done by the actresses.
Oscar nominations may visit “The Homesman” from director to female star to Cinematography to Best Original Score. Today the Great Plains are something to travel through with a cell phone and games. But yesteryear, it was a place to try to make a new beginning that sometimes didn't turn out right.
Copyright 2014 Marie Asner