I guess the title should have warned me.
The Homesman begins as an intriguingly revisionist – and potentially feminist – Western. Hilary Swank plays Mary Bee Cuddy, a single homesteader in Nebraska territory who volunteers to escort three severely mentally ill women back to Iowa, after the harshness of the environment (and the men in their lives) has become too much for them to bear. For help and protection, she brings along an uncouth squatter played by Tommy Lee Jones.
That the title refers to Jones’ character, and that he is the co-screenwriter and director, perhaps made it inevitable that the movie’s narrative would eventually swing his direction. Yet it does so far more drastically than I would have guessed, with a jarring plot twist. Afterwards, the movie’s shortcomings become even more apparent, including the fact that the three women – played by Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer and Sonja Richter – are convenient plot devices first and people second.
Jones, whose previous directorial effort was The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, manages some arresting imagery here, including a lovely shot of Swank washing her face at her kitchen sink while Jones is reflected in her window doing the same thing outside. Yet that sort of egalitarian filmmaking fades as we get something that increasingly resembles a vanity project. Add The Homesman to the long list of movies I wish had been made by Jane Campion.