Starring: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones
Rated R for Violence, Sexual Content, Some Disturbing Behavior and Nudity
Movies as bad as "The Homesman" don't come along very often, for which I am eternally grateful. They're so awful that they will make a person never want to watch another movie. They're rare enough among the direct-to-DVD pickings, but when they have three Oscar-winners and two nominees in their cast, it's astonishing. "88 Minutes" has got nothing on the sheer tedium of "The Homesman."
Of course, I shouldn't be too surprised. It was directed by Tommy Lee Jones himself. Despite working with some of the best talent in the movie business (Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman, among others), he absorbed none of their talents for storytelling. Another film that he co-wrote and directed, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," was so bad I turned it off after about 20 minutes. After watching the entirety of "The Homesman," I wish I had done the same in this instance.
"The Homesman" is one of those dry, super-pretentious movies where the characters say and do nonsensical things for next to no reason. It's a movie where Hilary Swank says "I love trees," where Miranda Otto takes her nursing baby to the outhouse and chucks it in the toilet, and where Tommy Lee Jones sings and dances (badly) for reasons the film never makes clear. Yep, it's that kind of movie. Steve McQueen (the director) would be proud.
In a small Nebraska county, three women have gone insane and their husbands are no longer able to care for them. A woman named Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) volunteers to take them to Iowa where a churchwoman will send them to New York to get well. Along the way, she saves a drifter named George Briggs (Jones) from the noose under the condition that he help her.
That's pretty much the entire movie. It's almost two hours of watching Cuddy and Briggs slowly travel in a wagon and trade senseless profundities that sound deep and meaningful but are really just verbal diarrhea. Making matters worse, they never shut up. Conversations are far from economical, and are dragged out far longer than they need to be. Talkative characters aren't necessarily bad (as anyone who has seen a Quentin Tarantino movie can attest), but that implies they are saying something interesting. That's not the case here. It's all trash.
The actors do what they can, which isn't much. None of them have a consistent character to play, or if they do, they have so little to say and do that they're almost irrelevant. Hilary Swank, whose career has been in a bit of a rut lately, is good, but she is saddled with a terrible script and a director without a clue. Tommy Lee Jones is flat. He tries to be more emotional than his trademark crusty personality, but he ends up just moping about. The actresses playing the insane women, Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, Sonja Richter, have nothing to do but sit around with blank stares once they are introduced. And yes, Meryl Streep does appear in this movie, but it's at the tail end and she's only on screen for 5 minutes in a completely thankless role.
The cast of this movie is impeccable. But please, for all that is holy and good in this world, don't watch "The Homesman."