Hilary Swank is having one interesting career. She doesn’t work much, but then she pops up every few years and it’s award-worthy work. Just when you were ready to write her after her first Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry as a one-hit wonder, she came back 5 years later and nabbed another Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. She was back on the radar again in 2010 for Conviction, which she was nominated for a SAG award. Now, 4 years later, she’s getting notices for her work in The Homesman, an interesting Western, co-written and directed by Tommy Lee Jones, who also stars.
Hilary plays Mary Bee Cuddy, a pioneer woman in Nebraska, who’s pushing 30 and desperate for a husband. She’s basically an old maid in her town. She proposes marriage to a handsome fella who comes around for dinner every once and a while, but he turns her down. When the opportunity comes along to escort three insane women to Iowa so they can be “treated” by a preacher’s wife, Mary jumps at the chance, because what else does she have to? It gives her a sense of purpose and takes her out of her mundane, lonely life.
The film introduces each one of the “crazy ladies” in very brief but disturbing scenes. Powerfully played by Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter, the shocking moments really put you on edge about what the women are capable of, and if Mary will be able to handle them. I’ve never seen a Western focus so much on the women before, so it’s an interesting take on a well-told genre.
As Mary starts out on her journey with a couple horses and a box wagon to hold the ladies, she comes across claim jumper George Briggs. His life is literally hanging in the balance when Mary saves him, and he gives his word he will help her on her mission. It’s basically one of the most original “road trip” movies you’ve ever seen. And the supporting cast that pops up along the way is pretty incredible: John Lithgow, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, Jesse Plemons, and Hailee Steinfeld (who is back in a western after scoring an Oscar nod for 2010’s True Grit) all pop up for brief appearances, and then there’s Meryl Streep who plays the Preacher’s wife that Jones and Swank are trying to get to. And yes, Meryl does share a scene with her real-life daughter Grace Gummer.
Probably since he has so much invested in the flick, Jones is as engaging and charismatic as he’s ever been. You’ll really enjoy him here. Swank gets handed a pretty sad sack of a character, but it’s interesting watching an actress who has played so many strong females, find the strength in the sadness of Mary Bee Cuddy.
Just when you think you have this story figured out, there is a shocking (I mean, shocking) twist that kicks off the third act of the movie. In a sense, it will leave you disappointed, but it also gives you a frank and harsh reality of how difficult life can be for some in this time period, especially for women.
While The Homesman’s story could have lent itself to sentimentality, Jones steers clear of it. He pulls no punches presenting an honest and frank view of life on the range.