This fem-centric Western from actor-director/co-writer Tommy Lee Jones is packed with twists. Hilary Swank excels as Mary Bee Cuddy, who works on a farm in Nebraska. She has no husband, but not for lack of trying. The farmers find her plain as a bucket, but Mary Bee is a go-getter. She volunteers to use her wagon to transport three frontier women back to Iowa, where a minister’s wife (Meryl Streep, no less) will give shelter to these so-called “cuckoo clocks.” Arabella (Grace Gummer) lost three children to diphtheria; Theoline (Miranda Otto) killed her baby; and Gro (Sonja Richter) needs an exorcist. Mary Bee needs help. And she finds it in George Briggs (Jones), an Army deserter who finds working for a woman preferable to hanging. Barely.
The Homesman lacks the scope and depth of Jones’ dynamite 2005 directorial debut, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. But Jones and Swank, walking the tightrope between comic and tragic, ignite combustibly.