By Darren Johnson
“The Homesman,” starring (and directed by) Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank, now on Netflix, is a fantastic movie for a lot of reasons, which I will get to in a second.
First, I wanted to state my critical philosophy, especially pertaining to how I write this column.
There are a lot of movies out there, and it does seem unfair for me — a lowly Netflix critic (though the first person in the world to start reviewing Netflix offerings for an established publication) — to crap on a movie that took months and millions to make in a column that takes about an hour to write; and especially considering that I have never made a movie myself.
So, considering there are a lot of movies out there — especially on Netflix, my playground — I see my value in finding hidden gems that you may not be aware of for a number of reasons. For example, perhaps the movie wasn’t advertised enough in its initial run and you missed it. Perhaps you were too young to have seen it then. Maybe critics did not like the movie initially, you read the reviews and avoided it at the time.
As well, I work under the pretense that you are not paying $12 for a movie ticket, and instead are watching this for free, relatively, on Netflix. Some movies, where you can unwind on your sofa and pause as needed, work better on the small screen.
And, finally, a negative review does you little good — unless it’s an over-hyped movie or TV series I think you may encounter based just on its large marketing budget. In those rare cases, I might write the negative review just to warn you, and save you time. Time has value, too. But, ultimately, I do the best service when giving you positive advice. Most bad movies I see on Netflix I simply don’t bother you with, when there are so many good ones I can let you know about, instead.
Anyway, back to today’s review, “The Homesman,” which didn’t do much at the box office in 2014 and features a “plain as a tin pail” Swank as a single, religious, un-marriageable homesteader in the mid-1800s, who takes it upon herself to take three mentally ill women east from Nebraska Territory to Iowa for help.
While this movie has a mediocre audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it did gain four out of five stars on Netflix from us regular Joes — a score that is similar to its 80% critics score on RT.
What makes this riveting is the attention to detail — all of the characters seem very authentic for the time period. As well, we are presented with a desolate Great Plains without hills or trees, but bearing many eerie symbols along the way. Jones and Swank both portray mannerisms that seem true to that place and era, as well. Last, the idea of people, especially women, losing their minds in the Expansion west is a topic we don’t read much of in history books, but it was a real problem then. The movie conveys well the fear and isolation of the setting. Too, we realize how long interstate travel took.
“The Homesman” is a well-acted, very accurate period drama, not to be confused with a typical Western, that teaches us about an important aspect of American history in a very real way. As well, this movie has an interesting perspective twist about two-thirds of the way through that I can’t detail as not to spoil the story for you. Just hang in there…
“It’s New to You!” has found hidden gems on Netflix since 2010.