The Homesman - DVD Review

'Cuddy (Swank) and Briggs (Jones) form an odd-couple bond set against the backdrop of a foul West'

The Western genre is not known for being full of sweetness and light, but we may be at new depths of glumness and unpleasant acts with Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman, which starts off oppressive, graduates to unpleasant and arrives somewhere in the vicinity of shocking. There's a borderline sweet/tragic conclusion but it doesn't do much to wash away the taste of some of the things you've seen.

Unpleasantness though is no self-made stick to hit a film with and The Homesman's problems are more to do with narrative drive than they are to do with its subject matter. Accompanying Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) on an odyssey to take three mentally ill women to a safe haven, Jones' Briggs is a gruff creation by Jones the actor, never allowed to shine by Jones the director. It is well past the forty-five minute mark when the duo finally leave on their adventure, a set up time that has been used to show the reasons behind their charges' madness and generally go nowhere fast.

Once on the road, things do perk up as Cuddy and Briggs form an odd-couple bond set against the backdrop of a foul West. Of note is a brush with both Indians and Tim Blake Nelson's hauler, but the real life finally arrives when Briggs attempts to find lodging at the hotel of Aloysius Duffy (James Spader, having a ball). In a few scenes here, Jones finally lets Briggs into the narrative and the film is all the more impressive for it.

There was some talk around the film's cinema release about it being a feminist Western, but there rarely seems any doubt that this is still a man's world and the treatment of the Cuddy character belies that. Briggs is required to give this story life and action and it's plain that there is neither when he is not allowed in. That is, perhaps, part of the point of Cuddy, but it seems impossible to claim this as a piece of feminism (as Jones apparently has) when the lead female character has little-to-zero agency.

There is some beautiful photography from Rodrigo Prieto, which at its best calls to mind Roger Deakins' work on Jarhead and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but Jones as a director is still lacking narrative mastery and there's just not enough here to sustain you without that.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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