A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Homesman is a Western (based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout) with disturbing material, mostly related to three frontier women who go insane. They scream, thrash, and moan, and one cuts herself with a needle. One throws a baby away in an outhouse, and other dead babies are also shown. Violence includes forced marital sex, some fighting (with a little blood), drawn guns, and a body hanging from a tree. Women are shown topless, and there's a fairly strong sex scene. Language includes "s--t," "son of a bitch," and "goddamn." A character sometimes drinks whisky and is shown drunk in the final scene. The movie's mature material and Western setting may not put it at the top of teens' must-see list, but adventurous viewers will find it rewarding.
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What's the story?
Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is an upright, single pioneer woman in the Nebraska Territory, unable to find a husband on account of being "plain" and "bossy." When three local women go insane and need to be transported to Iowa for special care, Mary Bee volunteers for the unpleasant, dangerous job. She happens upon a so-called claim jumper -- the ragged, uncouth George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) -- at the end of a rope; she rescues him in exchange for his help on the journey. Besides adapting to the women's unpredictable and disturbing behavior, the unlikely pair must face cold, Native Americans, and other dangers. But their biggest challenge might just lie in their own heart.
Is it any good?
Based on a classic novel by Glendon Swarthout, who also wrote The Shootist, THE HOMESMAN is something close to a great modern-day Western. As evidenced by his last film, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, director Jones has a keen eye for hard landscapes (including his own weathered face) and emotional compositions. The Homesman is full of striking imagery: the locked, coffin-like coach; fresh new buildings in hardscrabble dirt; a disturbed grave on a gnarly plain.
Jones is also wise enough to step into the supporting role, giving Swank room to do her best stuff as Mary Bee, an extraordinary woman who's as strong as a man yet full of yearning and forever giving more than she gets. As Briggs, Jones sometimes provides cranky comic relief from the grim material but eventually grows into a sympathetic, essential character (thanks to several women). Meryl Streep works her magic in the later scenes, as does young cowgirl Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Mary Bee Cuddy is a role model. What does she sacrifice, and what does she gain? What does she learn? Does she make the world a better place?
How violent is The Homesman? How is the violence related to the behavior of the mentally ill characters? Why are they so disturbing and so upsetting? How does the movie's view of them change?
How does George Briggs change over the course of the movie? What does he learn from the many women he encounters throughout the story?
What's appealing(or unappealing) about the Western genre? What are films like these generally trying to say?
- In theaters: November 14, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: February 17, 2015
- Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, Hilary Swank
- Director: Tommy Lee Jones
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Western
- Run time: 122 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, sexual content, some disturbing behavior and nudity