The Homesman (2014)

(On Cable TV, December 2015) If you thought you’d seen gritty westerns, hold on to your ten-gallon hat, because you haven’t seen The Homesman yet.  From the first few minutes, which piles up graphic depictions of romantic rejection, dead babies, spousal abuse and women made crazy by the horrible conditions of the Wild West, this is a film that doesn’t pull any punches.  Hillary Swank stars as a woman homesteader who can’t find a suitable husband, and accepts to drive back east for weeks in order to escort three unbalanced women back to civilization.  She eventually manipulates a loner (Tommy Lee Jones, who also directs the film) into providing assistance during the weeks-long journey.  Various adventures ensue, most of them underscoring the almost unbearable nature of life in the un-colonized American west.  Surprisingly enough, The Homesman ends up being a progressive western, deeply concerned with the burden of being a woman at that time and showing, often in far too painful details, what could happen to anyone pushed to their limits.  The film features a third-act development so unpredictable that it redefines the perception of the film’s protagonist and casts a very different light over the rest of the film.  Don’t expect a fast film or a spectacular conclusion: The Homesman is slow, methodical, gloomy and not a little bit tragic on its way to the closing credits.  It is, however, quite haunting in the way it refuses anything close to a happy ending.  Call it the perfect antidote to a succession of rote Hollywood films – it may not be fun to watch, but it’s certainly far more respectable.

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