The Homesman @ The Ross

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) and George Briggs, The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) and George Briggs, The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)

We all have heard of people who lived on the prairie during the nineteenth century committing suicide because the land and its lethal isolation had etched itself onto their psyches. Settlers pitched their tents in an environment where there was nothing between them but land and sky–somewhere out there. Men, women, and children built with their bare hands four walls out of sod, hoisted grass or hay for a roof, and called it a homestead … somewhere out there.

These elements on the plains … we all know them: the obnoxious prairie winds and the bitter winters in a nineteenth century world — all could drive a man to drink or catapult a woman onto crazy’s doorstep. And onto crazy’s doorstep is just where three women living on the plains land: Arabella Sours played by Grace Gummer; Theoline Belknap played by Miranda Otto, and Gro Svendsen played by Sonja Richter–three women who found themselves in another state of mind in the middle of nowhere in The Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones’s 2d directorial project. A western, New Mexico fills in for the great plains of Nebraska and Iowa of the 1850s. Hilary Swank co-stars as Mary Bee Cuddy, a self-determined unmarried woman of 31 who single-handedly has worked her acres of land to a profit. Jones stars as George Briggs, a curmudgeon of a drifter whom Mary Bee saves from the hangman’s noose. Briggs, the Homesman, and Mary Bee agree to transport Arabella, Gro, and Theoline across the great plains from Nebraska to be taken in by Altha Carter, the minister’s wife in Iowa, played by Meryl Streep. The plains no longer could tolerate them.

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank)

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank)

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto photographs the stark beauty of the prairie landscape but he admirably portrays its dangers as well. There is nowhere to hide from any threat of attack but George Briggs assures the audience of his resourcefulness in varying scenes. He makes us trust him. Swank’s portrayal of Mary Bee brings a prairie woman with good intentions but her piety can find no home on the flat desolate prairie horizon.

The Homesman dances with the many faces of insanity, and this detail is what will endear the film to you.

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The Homesman plays through January 22 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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