Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Cannes Review: Tommy Lee Jones’ Awkwardly Interesting ‘The Homesman’ Co-Starring Hilary Swank & Meryl Streep

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 18, 2014 at 6:01AM

Eight years ago (gosh, was it really that long?), Tommy Lee Jones made his long-awaited feature directorial debut with the contemporary neo-western “The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada.” The film premiered at Cannes, and proved a big hit there, winning a Best Actor trophy for Jones, and a Best Screenplay prize for “Babel” scribe Guillermo Arriaga. But the film never quite found an audience outside the Croisette, and perhaps for that reason, the only thing that Jones has made in the meantime was a modest HBO adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Sunset Limited.”
2
The Homesman
Roadside/Saban Films "The Homesman"

Eight years ago (gosh, was it really that long?), Tommy Lee Jones made his long-awaited feature directorial debut with the contemporary neo-western “The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada.” The film premiered at Cannes, and proved a big hit there, winning a Best Actor trophy for Jones, and a Best Screenplay prize for “Babel” scribe Guillermo Arriaga. But the film never quite found an audience outside the Croisette, and perhaps for that reason, the only thing that Jones has made in the meantime was a modest HBO adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Sunset Limited.”

The Homesman

Until now, anyway. The actor-director is back at Cannes with “The Homesman,” an adaptation of the novel by Glendon Swarthout, and while ‘Three Burials’ certainly nodded at the Western, this is the full-fat version, full of settlers and pioneers and wagons and Indians. It’s also a much less fully-formed and complete picture than its predecessor, one that looks likely to prove divisive, and that’s unlikely to find a bigger crowd. But while it’s an awkward, uneven picture, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fascinating one.

Set in the 1850s, it stars Hilary Swank as Mary Bee Cuddy, a forthright, independent 31-year-old woman with a modest but thriving farm in Nebraska, but who’s deemed to be too plain and too bossy to land a man. Three women in the community (Grace Gummer, Sonja Richter andMiranda Otto) have lost their minds due to various tragedies, and when their husbands (Jesse Plemons, David Dencik and William Fichtner) fail to step up, Mary Bee volunteers to escort them in a wagon to a woman in Iowa (Meryl Streep, in a cameo that likely took all of an afternoon to shoot) who’s offered to care for them).

The Homesman

It’s a long, difficult and dangerous journey for anyone, let alone a prim, if capable single woman, and so when she happens across George (Jones), a claim-jumper in the midst of being lynched, she saves his life, and offers him $300 on the condition that he aids her in her quest. Without much choice, he accepts, and they set out on the long and dangerous trail, facing freighters, Native American tribes and worse.

As a road movie based on a novel, it’s not a huge surprise that this is an episodic piece of work, wandering gently and episodically from scene to scene without a huge sense of urgency. Some are more interesting than others (Tim Blake Nelson’s typically gross, menacing cameo is better than James Spader and his questionable Irish accent later on, for instance), and that’s in part because of a fairly severe tonal imbalance throughout.

Mary Bee, as played by Swank (who’s the best she’s been in some time here), is a fairly somber and serious figure, and her arc follows as such, while Jones, channeling Walter Matthau to some degree, is a broader figure, a sort of wackier, less stable Rooster Cogburn. They’re designed as an odd couple (who, obviously, come to a kind of mutual respect), but they’re odd enough that the film feels terribly uneven, swinging from buddy-comedy to bleak pioneer drama and back again in the space of five minutes.

The Homesman

It’s the more downbeat stuff that’s the most effective: Jones is examining the hard life of a woman in the Old West, both through Swank and through the three woman they escort (who don’t get all that much to do but play upper-case Crazy), and though it falls through on its feminism by keeping the focus on Jones rather than Swank, it’s nevertheless fairly effective, and does pack a real punch by the end. There are interesting hints, though not entirely followed through on, that Swank and Jones are just as mad as their charges, which adds a few more intriguing layers to proceedings.

As such, while the film’s not terribly satisfying, sitting too awkwardly on screen to feel fully-achieved, it’s an odd enough bird that it’s more than worth the watch. And Jones, if nothing else, remains a confident director: it nods more to John Ford (and a little John Huston: “The African Queen” is an obvious touchstone too) than more contemporary takes on the genre, but the old-school classicism suits the material, and Rodrigo Prieto’s photography is never less than gorgeous.

Too meditative to tick boxes for the gunplay crowd, and too silly and uneven for the arthouse gang, the film will likely be dismissed by many as a misfire. But in a festival with a lot of thoroughly decent, well-made, tasteful pictures that didn’t quite have us swooning, we savored the chance to sit through something a little more unruly. [B]

Browse through all our coverage of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival by clicking here.

The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
Roadside/Saban Films "The Homesman"
The Homesman
"The Homesman"
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
Roadside/Saban "The Homesman"
The Homesman
courtesy of Roadside Attractions "The Homesman"
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman
The Homesman


This article is related to: Reviews, Review, Cannes Film Festival, Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Miranda Otto, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates