“The Homesman” is easily the most bizarre movie of 2014. Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones, one of the most respected actors of the past three decades, co-writes, directs, and stars in this adaptation of a 1988 novel. It’s a western, set in the mid-1800s. There are no trains in the film, so to be historically accurate, I have to call this a ‘stagecoach-wreck’.
What intrigued me most about “The Homesman” was the Best Actress buzz two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank is receiving for her performance as the plain and bossy Mary Bee Cuddy, a single woman living alone on a ranch in the western territory. She’s as rough and tough, and as good a shot, as any man. So she volunteers to take three women who have gone insane hundreds of miles, by horse and wagon, to Iowa so they can be treated. She’s joined on this perilous journey by outlaw George Briggs (Jones), a wisecracking, no-nonsense tough guy (basically the same character Jones plays in every movie).
And for the next two hours we watch these two getting to know each and battling the elements, while dealing with the three women tied-up inside their wagon – Cuddy in a thoughtful, caring way, Briggs – a bit rougher. There are a series of flashbacks, in which we are shown, quite graphically, just how sick the patients are. They’re very tough to watch.
Unfortunately, watching the rest of the “The Homesman” isn’t a picnic, either. The tone of this film is scattered like leaves in an old west dust storm. It’s part western road movie, part horror movie, with elements of comedy, music, action and melodrama tossed in. And hardly any of it works. None of the characters and situations are believeable, so at no point did I invest any emotion into them. My favorite line in the film comes when one of the crazy women is repeatedly kicking one of the other crazy women in the face. Seeing this Jones says “What the Hell?!” – the same question that was going through my mind as I was watching this pure madness unfold. At times it felt like I was trapped inside the loony wagon with no way of escaping.
Swank does have a few interesting scenes, but she mostly gives a sappy, one-note performance that’s far from award worthy.
And Jones’ Briggs seems like he wandered in from a different movie – a slapstick, saloon comedy. Together, these two display zero chemistry.
One of the few things that kept my interest was waiting for Meryl Streep and James Spader to make their appearances, which come late in the film. And it’s impossible not to think – “Hey, it’s James Spader” (as a goofy hotel owner) and “Hey, it’s Meryl Streep” (as a pastor’s wife). In fact everyone in “The Homesman” comes across as an actor playing a role, never as a believable character.
It all wraps-up with a completely ridiculous final scene, which will leave you not only shaking your head, but wondering what the heck Jones was trying to say – about these characters, their situation, and life at this time in our nation’s history.
“The Homesman” is rated R for violence, language, adult content, nudity and numerous disturbing images. Having absolutely no point, other than to completely stun people with just how messy and meaningless it all is, “The Homesman” is clearly one of the worst movies of the year.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Homesman” gets a D.