The Homesman

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The Homesman
The Homesman poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tommy Lee Jones
Produced by
Written by
  • Kieran Fitzgerald
  • Tommy Lee Jones
  • Wesley Oliver
Based on The Homesman 
by Glendon Swarthout
Music by Marco Beltrami
Cinematography Rodrigo Prieto
Edited by Roberto Silvi
Distributed by
Release dates
  • May 18, 2014 (2014-05-18) (Cannes)
  • November 14, 2014 (2014-11-14) (United States)
Running time
122 minutes[3]
  • France
  • United States
Language English
Budget $16 million[4]
Box office $2.8 million[5]

The Homesman is a 2014 French-American period drama film set in the 1850s midwest produced and directed by Tommy Lee Jones and co-written with Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver, based on the 1988 novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout. The film stars Jones and Hilary Swank and also features Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, and James Spader.

The film was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival[6] and received a North American limited release on November 14, 2014 by Roadside Attractions.[7] The Homesman has received mostly positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating average of 7.2/10.

The title refers to the task of taking immigrants back home, which was typically a man's job to carry out.


Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is a 31-year-old spinster from New York, a former teacher who journeyed to the Midwest for more opportunity. She is an active member of the small farming community Loup City, Nebraska Territory, and has significant financial prospects and sizable land ownership. She seems strong and independent, but inside she suffers from depression and isolation after being rejected by several potential husbands for being too "plain" and too "bossy". She sings to Bob Giffen (Evan Jones) while playing her makeshift piano, but when she proposes, he turns her down.

After a harsh winter, three young women—Arabella Sours (Grace Gummer), Theoline Belknapp (Miranda Otto), and Gro Svendsen (Sonja Richter)—begin to show signs of insanity due to the hardships they have faced: one lost her children to diphtheria, one killed her own child, and one was repeatedly raped by her husband and suffers a breakdown after her mother dies. Reverend Dowd (John Lithgow) calls upon one of their husbands to escort the women eastward to a church in Hebron, Iowa that cares for the mentally ill. Unsatisfied with any of the men's potential, Mary Bee volunteers for the task alone, and Dowd reluctantly agrees.

Cuddy encounters George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), a claim jumper, who is about to be lynched for using another man's land as his own. Briggs begs Cuddy for help. She frees him in return for his help escorting the women. He immediately casts doubt on the job and tells her that he considers himself free to leave at any time. Cuddy uses the promise of $300 waiting for him at their destination to persuade him to remain with her as they make the journey.

Briggs's experience comes in handy when fending off hostile Indians and when one of the women wanders off and is taken in by a wandering man (Tim Blake Nelson). However, when they discover a desecrated grave of an eleven-year-old girl, Cuddy wants to stop and restore the grave, while Briggs vows to push on. Cuddy agrees to catch up with him, and, after restoring the grave, sets out on horseback. Riding all night, she wakes and discovers that her horse has returned her to the grave.

Finally catching up to Briggs, Cuddy tells him that they make a great team and suggests that they marry. Briggs, like all the previous men, rejects Cuddy on the grounds of her looks and bossy nature. A naked Cuddy propositions him later that night, the two have sex. The next morning, Briggs finds that Cuddy has committed suicide. Briggs buries her body and lashes out in anger at Sours, Belknapp, and Svendsen. Discovering that Cuddy had his money with her the entire time, Briggs takes a horse and leaves the three women behind to their own devices. But when the trio follow him on foot, one of them almost drowning in the river crossing, he returns and pledges to care for them until Iowa.

Briggs seeks food and shelter at a hotel belonging to Aloysius Duffy (James Spader), who informs him that they have no rooms available for them despite the hotel being completely empty. Briggs lashes out at Duffy, and his men and Briggs threaten each other with guns. Briggs leaves but returns that night alone on horseback. He sends away the young cook, instructing her not to look back. He uses the wall lamps to set the hotel on fire and shoots Duffy in the foot when he tries to get downstairs to escape. Briggs takes the roasted pig to feed himself and the ladies, and he exits the hotel leaving all inside to be burned alive.

Briggs reaches Iowa, passing the women into the care of Altha Carter (Meryl Streep), the wife of a church reverend. He informs her of Cuddy's death but does not disclose the true cause. Guilty about having rejected Mary Bee's proposal, he suggests marriage to young Tabitha Hutchinson (Hailee Steinfeld) but then decides against it and leaves the young girl be. Instead, he has a wooden slab engraved for Cuddy's grave and boards a river ferry. On board he meets a group of musicians and begins taunting the men left on the bank as he drunkenly dances and fires his weapon. As the ferry departs, one of the bargemen kicks Mary Bee's marker into the river.



The film shows the unsparingly harsh and difficult life of early settlers of the American Midwest in the 1850s. The Homesman has been called a 'feminist western'. Critics have noted that the lives of women during this time are rarely explored, as opposed to men, while also commenting that women today are still having to balance many roles including the societal pressures for women to be married and have children and to be perfect wives and mothers.[8][9]


The music by Marco Beltrami has received praise from critics. The score emphasizes the use of wind sounds to show how early settlers had to endure the constant wind without solid shelter, which imitates the character themes of being mentally undone by the elements that surround them. Beltrami used inventive measures such as using a "wind piano". Beltrami said the goal was to take the "warmth" out of the sound to dissipate the air.[10]


Director and cast at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival

The Homesman premiered on May 18, 2014, in competition at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. The film also was screened at the 2014 Telluride Film Festival, and the AFI Film Festival, among others. Saban Entertainment bought the film after Cannes for release, with Roadside Attractions joining to distribute the film in the U.S. EuropaCorp will distribute abroad.[11] The film was limited-released in the United States on November 14, 2014, with plans to expand over following months.[12][13]

Critical response[edit]

The Homesman has received mostly positive reviews from critics. With particulars standing out being Swank's performance, the cinematography, score, and costumes. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an 82% approval rating based on 136 reviews, with a rating average of 7.2/10. The site's consensus: "A squarely traditional yet somewhat progressive Western, The Homesman adds another absorbing entry to Tommy Lee Jones' directorial résumé".[14] Metacritic gave the film a score of 68/100 based on 43 critics, indicating generally favorable reviews.[15]

Betsy Sharkey with the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Swank and Jones, in particular, are a very good odd couple, playing saint and sinner, sometimes reversing the roles. What the directing side of Jones does best is to cede the spotlight to his star. He builds a strong platform for Swank to take on yet another woman who refuses to be bound by gender conventions".[16]

Andrew O'Hehir with Salon wrote: ". . . Swank gives a magnificent performance as a woman whose calm and capable exterior cannot completely conceal her worsening desperation. In its unsentimental poetry, its stripped-down imagery and its unforgettable lead performances, 'The Homesman' is a ruthless western classic . . . cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s harsh, horizontal landscapes—like the haunting, unsettling score by Marco Beltrami—are anything but picturesque and reassuring, and serve to support a strikingly bleak portrait of life on the 19th-century American frontier".[17]

Claudia Puig with USA Today wrote: "Set on the Great Plains in the mid-1800s, 'The Homesman' aims for a story that's poignant and told sparely, but comes across as mawkish, tedious and self-indulgent. Swank brings a gravitas to her character that is undermined when some of her antics are played for laughs. In a 10-minute cameo, Meryl Streep's character is more fully developed than any of the leads' roles. The story attempts to show how hard it was for women in the Old West, but it ends up being Jones' surly show".[18]


List of accolades received by The Homesman
Year Award Category Recipient(s) and Nominee(s) Result
2014 2014 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Tommy Lee Jones Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Hilary Swank Nominated
Best Actor Tommy Lee Jones Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Hilary Swank Runner-up
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Hilary Swank Nominated
Phoenix Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Hilary Swank Nominated
Women Film Critics Circle Best Movie About Women Nominated
Best Male Images in a Movie Nominated
Best Actor Tommy Lee Jones Nominated
Courage in Acting Award Hilary Swank Nominated
The Invisible Woman Award Hilary Swank Nominated
Best Ensemble (Women's Work) Won
World Soundtrack Awards Film Composer of The Year Marco Beltrami Nominated
International Film Music Critics Association Composer of the Year Marco Beltrami Nominated
Best Original Score for a Drama Marco Beltrami Won
2015 Western Heritage Award Outstanding Theatrical Motion Picture The Javelina Film Company and Itacha Films Won
Spur Award Best Western Drama Script Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley A. Oliver Won


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "THE HOMESMAN (15)". British Board of Film Classification. August 26, 2014. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "The Homesman (2014)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 28, 2014. 
  6. ^ "2014 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Cambridge Film Festival
  8. ^ accessed 11/18/2014
  9. ^ accessed 11/23/14
  10. ^ accessed 11/23/14
  11. ^ "Cannes Film Festival: Official Selection Lineup Announced". Variety. 2014-04-17. Retrieved 2014-06-21. 
  12. ^ accessed 11/18/14
  13. ^ Fleming, Mike (2014-02-18). "Saban Films, Roadside Take Cannes Pic 'The Homesman'". Retrieved 2014-06-21. 
  14. ^ accessed 12/14/14
  15. ^ accessed 12/14/2014
  16. ^ accessed 11/18/14
  17. ^ accessed 11/18/14
  18. ^ accessed 11/18/14

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