Monday, November 24, 2014

The Homesman


Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, Tim Blake Nelson, Jesse Plemons, William Fichtner, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richtner
Studio: Roadside Attractions

                             Review by James Colt Harrison 

Rough, gruff actor/director Tommy Lee Jones has single-handedly brought back to the widescreen the American open plains in the 1850s midwest. Nothing is better suited to the grand wide screen than the old America west of the Mississippi, as captured beautifully by Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.

Novelist Glendon Swarthout wrote the book in 1988 and Jones turned it into a screenplay with buddies Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver. Swarthout intended the title to convey the meaning of when immigrants were taken back home, typically by a man, or a “homesman.”

Oscar® winning actress Hilary Swank plays a well-situated single woman named Mary Bee Cuddy who owns a large piece of land which she farms. She was formerly a school teacher in the East but felt the western territories would offer her more opportunities. She got settled in Nebraska, but suffers from depression after having been alone for so long. She’s not exactly an old hag, nor is she a raving beauty, but is simply referred to as “plain.”

Swank plays Mary Bee as a frisky, no-nonsense kind of a woman who goes after what she wants. And what she wants is a husband to share her farm and life with and raise a family. Although she is only 30---an ancient age in those days--- she doesn’t give up in her quest to find happiness. She pursues and proposes marriage to several young men who reject her for being too unattractive or too old. This throws her into another blue funk. She’s a desperate woman but, by golly, Swank plays her as an undefeated woman with verve.

This prompts her to seek some adventure to brighten her dreary life. When three pioneer women lose their sanity because of varying degrees of tragedy, the local Reverend asks for a man to escort the insane women to Iowa where they will be taken care of by a church that caters to the mentally ill. No man volunteers, so Mary Bee gleefully takes it upon herself to drive the women in a covered and locked coach to satisfy her need for some excitement and a change of scenery.

As she makes her journey she runs into ruffian George Briggs (Jones). He is a claim jumper and has been lynched, so he begs Mary Bee to take him on and save his life. He’s an uncontrollable sort and just the perfect type of character for Jones’ craggy face and uncivilized manner. Even so, Mary Bee sees he is breathing and is a male, so she makes a desperate attempt to have him agree to hook up with her. It doesn’t turn out as she expected and there is a shocking twist.

Swank does a first-rate job of acting like a desperate spinster, and Jones is usually a curmudgeon on screen, so he’s perfect for Briggs. Meryl Streep comes in for a ten-minute cameo as a preacher’s wife and commands the screen. She makes everything look as though we could all act ourselves, but you know in your heart you cannot touch the hem of her skirt. Viva Meryl!

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto was born in Mexico City in November 1965. Although his grandfather had been Mayor of Mexico City, the family soon had to flee to the United States when the ruler of the country persecuted the Mayor for his political differences. They first landed in close-by Texas, but later moved to Los Angeles. Prieto’s father grew up mostly in LA, but he studied to be an aeronautical engineer at New York University.

When Prieto, Jr. came along his interests leaned toward the Arts. He attended a small film school. After graduation, he was lucky to work with some established directors . He made his first film Oedipus Mayor in 1996 for director Jorge Ali Triana. He made a few more Mexican films and finally hit paydirt in 2000 with the world-wide hit  Amores Perros  from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Frida, in 2002 from director Julie Taymor brought him a nomination from the American Society of Cinematographers for his bold use of colors.

Director Oliver Stone hired him for the huge spectacle Alexander in 2004. His next three pictures brought him a shelf full of awards and nominations for Brokeback Mountain (2005), Babel, (2006), and Lust, Caution (2007) including BAFTA Award, Independent Spirit Award, Online Critics Best Cinematography, and an Academy Award ® nomination.

Prieto’s career has been on an upward spiral because of shooting Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010, Oliver Stone), Biutiful (2011, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), the Oscar® winning film Argo (2012, Ben Affleck), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorcese).

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