Hollywood studios deserve major credit for increasing the public’s awareness of mental illness and the silent suffering often faced by those afflicted. Leading actors from several successful 2014 films have masterfully morphed into character to showcase their delusional tendencies or other psychotic episodes. Michael Keaton’s powerful performance in “Birdman” provided audiences with a riveting illustration of bouts from auditory and visual hallucinations. In “Nightcrawler”, Jake Gyllenhaal’s emotionally troubled and socially awkward freelance cameraman role gave us a look into the off-kilter, dangerous menace to Los Angeles residents. Director David Fincher provided audiences with a brilliant depiction of a psychopath in the twisted thriller “Gone Girl”. And now comes a western movie, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, which chronicles the suffering and plight of women on the American frontier during the 1850s.
“The Homesman” offers a sobering account of the difficulties faced by settlers along the sparsely populated U.S. territories. Based on the 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout, the movie depicts how bitter cold weather, infectious diseases and isolation from society created unbearable hardships and, ultimately, death to many on the Plains. But this story takes the dark, depressing conditions even one step further–shocking audiences with the sexual abuse and inhumane treatment leveled by husbands upon their wives. The mental and physical assaults so severe that it prompts three women to completely shutdown on their families and own lives.
The lone bright spot in this movie is the presence of two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. Standing between a depressing storyline and multiple horrid scenes of harsh treatment towards women, lurks the unmistakable generosity of Swank’s character, Mary Bee Cuddy. Determined to find help for those suffering, Swank adds another stellar piece of work to an already remarkable motion picture resume. Unfortunately, Swank’s exceptional performance and the film’s strong start can’t overcome setbacks from a disjointed storyline with too many loose ends at its conclusion. Swank–and to a much lesser degree Jones–heroically carries this movie as far as its weak plot allows…and then some. But in the end, Swank’s effort and the cruel reality check on life’s demands, isn’t enough to save this film.
This film highlights mental illness and the stigma associated with social exclusion. Anyone different from the norm was discriminated against and suffered for it. In the brutal and heartless conditions of the American frontier, women also fell victim to the harsh treatment from their husbands. “The Homesman” gallantly sheds light on the medical condition by which women suffered as a result of diminished coping abilities. The stressful demands of life became too much for many to overcome. But just as a diagnosis may be easier to find than its cure, “The Homesman” charts a steady course towards hope only to leave viewers stranded in ambivalence. It’s a shame that a film with such a promising start and superb acting squander both with a depressing, inconclusive end result.
“The Homesman” is rated R for violence, sexual content, some disturbing behavior and nudity. It has a running time of 2 hours, 2 minutes.
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