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The Homesman (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Running Time 120 minutes.

OK for children.

In 1855, two Academy award winners, Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank, take off in a covered wagon across the Nebraska wilderness to take 3 young women, Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, and Sonja Richter (all of whom give terrific performances as troubled young women), who have been driven mad by the harsh Nebraska farm life to another Academy award winner, Meryl Streep and her minister husband in Iowa, who have agreed to care for them, a journey of at least 5 weeks or even longer.

Even though the story is about the bleakness of Nebraska, the film was shot in New Mexico. There is also some hypocrisy in the filmmakers’ listing of the cast, because they list Meryl Streep and Hailee Steinfeld as stars when both appear only as cameos and couldn’t have been on the set more than a day or two.

The film is about the journey and the dangers they encounter in the wilderness. Directed by Jones from a screenplay by Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, and Wesley A. Oliver and based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout (who also wrote The Shootist, which was made into the 1976 John Wayne movie), the film had me looking at my watch, but it was still strangely compelling. The relationship between Jones and Swank, a romantically frustrated plainswoman who is a successful farmer/rancher, constitutes fine viewing.

Also appearing in effective short performances are John Lithgow and James Spader.

The re-creation of the Prairie was painstakingly done by Jones and production designer Meredith Boswell who studied the photographs of Solomon Butcher, who spent 40 years documenting the living conditions of the settlers of the Prairie in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Bosworth said that the research was “gut-punching” because they had so little possessions. It was a stark life and they, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, have done an admirable job of making a Western as realistic as any you will ever see.