Homesman, The

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +1

Content: -4

Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, with small supporting roles filled by Jones’ cronies Meryl Streep, James Sapder, John Lithgow, and Hailee Steinfeld. Western drama. Written & directed by Tommy Lee Jones.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Three women who have been driven mad by pioneer life are to be transported across the country in a prison wagon by the pious, independent-minded Mary Bee Cuddy, who in turn employs low-life drifter George Briggs to assist her.

PREVIEW REVIEW: At some point writer/director Tommy Lee Jones must have said, “A lot of people aren’t going to get what I’m doing here.” And by golly, he’s right. It’s a gloomy subject, filmed in a gloomy land (not one single tree), with a cast led by the gloomiest actor in Hollywood. So whatever the message, it’s overshadowed by the doom and gloom.

Three women go insane (though mental stability doesn’t seem a characteristic of anybody in this picture), one woman becoming downright demonic; the lead woman, though devout in her faith, is consumed by loneliness, doing her best to marry someone…anyone (when none of her advances workout, well, it doesn’t end happily for her); and the male lead is so consumed with self that even his good deeds are tinged with corruption.

After sensing the dismal nature of the story via several tragic opening vignettes, Act One is topped off by the shot of a woman carrying her newborn to the outhouse, the camera cutting away just as she is about to dump the infant in a privy hole. This may be the most disturbing visual I’ve endured throughout my career as a film critic. The depressing imagery, dialogue and theme continues throughout the film.

The problem with trying to replicate the cost of being a pioneer in the old west is that if a filmmaker doesn’t walk a fine line with tone, the audience loses patience his intent. If he keeps showing tragedies, at some point we expect one more and when it comes, our reaction is more “Oh, brother,” than “Oh, God.”

One would hope that the tragedies in the film would cause the male lead to find some sort of redemption. But by film’s end, after he has murdered men for being callus, he wonders off in a drunken haze that seems to say he’s a lost soul.

DVD Alternatives: Meek’s Cutoff. The year is 1845, the earliest days of the Oregon Trail, and a wagon train of three families has hired mountain man Stephen Meek to guide them over the Cascade Mountains. The ending scene, like the film itself, is an allegory about faith, trust and endurance. Please read the full review.

Sarah, Plain and Tall. From 1991, Glenn Close and Christopher Walken star in this Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie. Close plays a woman in the 1880s who answers an ad to share a life on a Kansas farm. Nominated for nine Emmys.

Sarah, Plain & Tall: Winter’s End. Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Jack Palance. One frosty night, a mysterious stranger takes refuge in Sarah and Jacob Witting’s barn. After being discovered, he informs Jacob (Walken) that he is his father. John Witting (Palance) had abandoned his wife and child when Jacob was just a small boy. This sets the stage for many a life-lesson as the family attempts to know their reclusive relative and Jacob faces his own anger for him. Close has made this role her own, and Hallmark Hall Of Fame continues to present engrossing, uplifting material. At first, the TV-film seems a bit talky. Then you realize that there is a lot to be said. The people of Kansas have taken many a shot from Hollywood over the years, but here they are portrayed as hard-working, God-reverencing, decent people. At one point in the story, Jacob’s son goes to his father and tells him that all he wants for his birthday is for his father to forgive his grandpa. It’s a very effective scene, and the central theme of the movie. This production will touch many who are struggling to forgive family members for past infractions.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Roadside Attractions

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: None

Obscene Language: Six or so obscenities, mostly SOB.

Profanity: Twelve or so profane uses of God’s name, mostly from the male lead.

Violence: Women lose their babies at birth, one having lost her mind, kills her own newborn; a woman commits suicide by hanging herself; the male lead burns a building down, we hear the screams of trapped me dying in the blaze; a man almost strangles another to death before he is shot in the back of the head – very gory; etc.

Sex: An unfeeling couple endure a sexual act in order to make a baby – it is a sad visual, but then, what isn’t in this film; a man has sex with a woman while an older woman is in the same bed; a woman begs a man to have sex with her; before the scene gets overly graphic, it cuts away.

Nudity: Brief nudity as women are seen bathing; a woman so out of touch doesn’t even bother to pee without someone holding her and lifting her dress.

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None

Drugs: Some drinking.

Other: None.

Running Time: 122 minutes
Intended Audience: Manic depressives who want to stay that way.

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