Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Homesman (4 Stars)

Sometimes a film doesn't fit into a neat genre. On the surface "The Homesman" looks like a western. The posters even promote the image that it's a western, probably to draw people in who wouldn't normally go to see it. In actual fact, this film has nothing to do with westerns, apart from taking place in the same time and place as the traditional Hollywood westerns.

The film begins in Loup City, Nebraska, in the 1850's. Despite the pompous sounding name it was a town with only a dozen houses, most of the population being Polish and Norwegian immigrants. Loup still exists today, and it isn't much bigger. Mary Bee Cuddy is a reasonably wealthy 31-year-old woman who has moved from New York to buy land and start a farm. She does all the work herself, raising cattle and growing crops with only minimal assistance from neighbouring farmers.

The other women aren't as strong as her. It's a harsh land with very little comfort. Cattle die of frost, children die of diptheria. Three women are suffering from mental illness and have to be delivered to a mental asylum in Iowa. On the map it doesn't look very far, but it's a five week journey by horse-drawn wagon. Mary Bee volunteers to take the women to Iowa, because she considers herself more capable than the women's husbands. She sets off by herself, but as she leaves the town she finds an old man, George Briggs, who has been left sitting on a horse under a tree with a noose round his neck. She saves his life in return for his assistance.

Mary Bee Cuddy, played by Hilary Swank, is an awe-inspiring woman. She towers above the men around her, in both strength and intelligence. Her only weakness is that she feels lonely and wants a husband. She proposes to men, but they turn her down because she's "too plain and too bossy". What were the men thinking? I don't find her plain at all, and I like bossy women. She's a good, honest woman who would have made any man an excellent wife. George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) is different. He's a selfish man who always puts his own interests first. Mary Bee is an immoveable rock, but George slowly develops during the film, learning from her example. It's a tale of grace and redemption. First his life is saved, then he learns how to put his new life to good use.

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