“The Homesman”: The Old West Gets More and More Savage as Time Goes On

Two decades after Unforgiven and four after The Wild Bunch, are revisionist Westerns a thing anymore? Even if they are, Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman is less of a revisionist Western and more of a tone poem on just how unfair, miserable, and downright rapey life was on the frontier. When none of the men in town are willing to sack up and transport three insane women (Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, and Grace Gummer) from Nebraska to Iowa, unmarried pioneer Mary Bee (Hilary Swank) volunteers to take them, enlisting grizzled claim-jumper George (Jones) to escort them across the hostile territory. George is like Rooster Cogburn if still having both eyes to see the world resulted in a deep melancholy, that kind of world-weariness that Jones does so well, and the picture's True Grittiness is nodded to by a brief appearance by Hailee Steinfeld from Joel and Ethan Coens' film. Indeed, The Homesman is packed with top-notch actors who probably didn't need to hear more than “a Western directed by Tommy Lee Jones” to be convinced to play small roles, such as John Lithgow, James Spader, Jesse Plemons, Meryl Streep, and William Fichtner — who, between this and The Lone Ranger, has been in both the best and the worst Westerns in recent years.

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