Swank brings heart, grit to Western ‘Homesman’

By Bob Bloom

A touching and vulnerable performance by Hilary Swank dominates “The Homesman,” a period Western that eschews action in favor of character.

Swank plays Mary Bee Cuddy, a single frontiersman homesteading in the Nebraska Territories. It is a hard unforgiving land that only those with strong wills and strong backs can survive and endure.

And Cuddy has both.The Homesman

Thus, when three other women lose their minds because of the harsh conditions, Cuddy volunteers to take them across the river to Iowa, where they can get treatment and be sent back East.

Along the way, she saves the life of a scoundrel and drifter named Charlie Briggs, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who also co-wrote and directed the film.

She saves Briggs from hanging by making him swear to help her transport the women. He reluctantly agrees.

Like the wagon transporting the unfortunate women, “The Homesman” is slow moving. Its grim portrayal of frontier life is reminiscent of “Shane” and “Heaven’s Gate.”

It is Swank’s performance that holds you. Her Cuddy is God-fearing, determined, courageous and outspoken; all of which covers desperation to be loved and accepted.

Her aching for love, a husband and family is painful to watch.

Yet, she endures, volunteering to do a man’s job by taking the trio of women to a safe haven.

Jones gives the type of performance you have come to expect from this veteran actor. His Briggs is a hard-bitten, plainspoken, no-nonsense and profane drifter. He is ornery, but also can show compassion, empathy and understanding.

As a director, Jones utilizes a stark landscape to depict the vast, cold frontier as a foreboding and unforgiving terrain that quickly destroys bodies and spirits.

Some sequences of “The Homesman” will shock you; a few will surprise you. Underlying the film, though, is heart and an affirmation of people’s capacity to help their friends and neighbors no matter the sacrifice.

The film exemplifies the pioneer spirit that helped transform a wilderness into a nation.

Bloom’s movie, Blu-ray and DVD reviews can be found at Reel Bob, The Film Yap and on Rottentomatoes.com. You can follow Bloom on Twitter @ReelBobBloom and on Facebook.


The Homesman

3 stars out of 4

(R), nudity, sexual content, violence and language

Opens Friday at the Landmark Keystone Arts Cinema in Indianapolis.