The Homesman is not your typical Western. There is no bloodshed. No battle between the good guys and the bad. But, it has one element that typifies a Western—someone winds up dead. Who dies and how, took me by surprise. The movie was just moseying along, then the sucker punch.
George Griggs (Tommy Lee Jones) sets out on a horse drawn wagon across Nebraska with four women. Three of the women are chained inside, either insanely violent or catatonic. A fourth woman, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), bossy and self-sufficient, with no prospect of marriage, rescues Griggs from hanging. She promises him three hundred dollars to accompany her and the trio to Iowa where a minister’s wife is waiting to shelter the women until they can travel East to their families. Along the way, Griggs, who is only in it for the money, starts to soften and eventually the three mad women look to him for food and direction. Mary Bee, however, starts to unravel during the difficult journey. Hopelessness and constant peril coupled with insanity lead to desperation.
Jones, who also directs the movie, has an unmistakable voice and weathered face. His character is a claim jumper, a scoundrel and a survivor. Hilary Swank as Mary Bee is his counterpart. Will they make it to their destination?
The movie is based on The Homesman: A Novel by Glendon Swartout, which won the Western Writers of America's Spur Award and the Western Heritage Wrangler's Award in 1988. For another heart wrenching story of women tormented by the isolation of American frontier life in the 1800's try the classic novel Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie by O. E. Rolvaag. Both titles are available at the Virginia Beach Public Libraries.
If you like western films, check the VBPL catalog for classic, traditional or contemporary titles, including The Homesman. Review by Sandi H.