Tommy Lee Jones Stands Tall in "The Homesman"
By Skip Sheffield
Can Tommy Lee Jones save the American Western?
“The Homesman” is not exactly a Western. You could call it a "Midwestern,” as it is set in Nebraska Territory and points east toward Iowa in the year 1854.
Jones, who co-wrote, directed and stars in “The Homesman” makes one of most comical entrances in movie history, staggering out of a sod hut in his long johns, his face covered in soot.
Jones' character, who he chooses to call George Briggs, has been charged with claim-jumping by a vigilante crowd of locals. The homestead's true owner had gone East in search of a bride, Briggs figured "finders keepers."
A tough, self-reliant woman named Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) has been humiliated and unsuccessful thus far in her hunt for a husband. Three young wives in the pioneer community had gone "plumb loco," as they used to say, and Mary Bee was the volunteer winner of a lottery to decide who would be responsible for transporting the three mentally-disturbed, possibly violent women back East to a church home in Iowa. A primitive paddy wagon was been constructed, complete with barred windows, a door that locks from the outside, and cuffs and chains to secure the human cargo.
Mary Bee just so happens to discover George Briggs on a horse beneath a tree, with hands tied and a noose around his neck. She decides to save the luckless stranger but it is not with a price. May Bee tells Briggs about her mission and says she will save him and pay him $300 at the end if he helps her drive the wagon and three crazy woman to Iowa.
So begins a pioneer-era road trip with the mismatched couple and their charges. Jones the director mixes equal parts comedy with the drama, and there will be some unexpected plot turns.
Hilary Swank has the admirable ability of appearing very strong, yet vulnerable. She is not a classic beauty, but she certainly is not the Plain Jane she plays in this movie.
Both Swank and Jones cheerfully make fun of themselves. Did Jones ever hear of sunscreen? His George Briggs is so wrinkled, baggy and bleary, Keith Richard is a smooth lad by comparison.
Jones is not doubt held in high regard by the Hollywood community, for a prestigious A-list of celebrities lined up for bit parts. While the crazy ladies (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter) are lesser-known, Grace Gummer's mom, Meryl Streep, certainly is. Streep has a tiny role at film's edge as a Methodist preacher's wife. Also playing a preacher is John Lithgow, while James Spader plays a cowardly rotter. In the screenplay, based on Glendon Swathout ("The Shootist") novel, George Briggs extracts a horrible revenge.
If anyone can save the Western, even if is a Midwestern, it is stern-faced, rock solid Tommy Lee Jones. Good work son.