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Yes No Maybe So: "The Homesman"

I've been anxiously awaiting this trailer so let's hitch our Yes No Maybe So wagon to Hilary Swank's as she transports three crazies across the country to Iowa in the western The Homesman. We knew from interviews and a cursory knowledge of the novelist Glendon Swarthout only a handful of things before seeing this trailer.

Oh nos. Nathaniel is talking about me again.

1. Six of Swarthout's other books have been adapted for the screen, most famously the ür spring break girls-gone-wild movie Where the Boys Are (1960) and The Shootist (1976) starring John Wayne
2. "The Homesman" refers to the job title that Swank's farmer character Mary Bee Cuddy signs on to perform, carting insane women across the country 
3. Meryl Streep's role is small and she has no scenes with Swank (according to Swank herself) but her character has some part in collecting the three women in the wagon
4. It's directed by Tommy Lee Jones and shot by Brokeback Mountain's cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto
5. It takes place in the 1850s. 

The trailer and the breakdown after the jump...


• The premise itself is fascinating. What specificity.
• That shot of the doll being buried is totally sad and evocative. Especially with the humming underscore which ends the trailer
• Two of Hilary's line readings sound really good in this brief glimpse: "we make a good team" and "I live, uncommonly, alone."
• Some of the shots are starkly beautiful...


• Although a lot of the shots look just flat. What is it with washed out color? If you really want to make a black and white movie, make a black and white movie. Imagine how much more striking it would be. Dusty westerns don't necessarily have to be robbed of color - see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which is appropriately dusty but still filled with color.
• Is it just me or does Tommy Lee Jones look like he's tilting a little camp with his choices. "Help me." That seems like a dangerous choice in a movie about hissing lunatics in a wagon cage.
• A couple of Swank's line readings are worrisome particularly "Suppose I do. What will you do for me?"
• What's with the heavy Swank eyebrows? Distracting. You already won two Oscar for masculine deglamming, girl. Don't push your luck.


• Tommy Lee Jones's first directing job Three Burials got a lot of fine reviews.
• Grace Gummer and Miranda Otto (yay!) and Sonja Richter could well shine here from under their ropes and chains and unkempt locks
• Opportunities for robust and moving performances seem abundant
• As do opportunities to comment on the western genre in a feminine way and examine the definition of "sanity" and how sexism can apply to perceptions of the same.
• But the co-leads could well descend into cliche odd couple chemistry. This project looks entirely dependent on execution. 

The Inescapable Streep. She has 3 movies out this year.

That premise alone has me intrigued enough to be a Yes. Unless the reviews are terrible. But I sure wish there was a bit more color to the cinematography. Or less. How about you?


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Reader Comments (50)

You're always so judgmental of cinematography. You hate repetition in visual style from auteurs. You hate on trend color timing. You hate desaturation in color timing. And black and white does not automatically make a film--Nebraska. Deep saturation and a rainbow palette does not make much sense for most live action features.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Very, very impressed.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Casey

And it's Grace Gummer, the far more talented Frances. Ha one, not Mamie.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Casey

LOVE how this looks. Swank is coming for that third Oscar. Get it, girl. I have full confidence in TLJ, and we get so few westerns anymore that I'm greatly looking forward to this.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Swank and Jones look a bit rough at times, but I think this could be promising!

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Maybe it's just the way the trailer is cut, but I'm getting a major True Grit (the remake) vibe from a lot of these shots and (especially) the lead pairing. I feel like Hilary Swank is riffing on Hailee Steinfeld (who even showed up in the trailer!?). And I didn't like True Grit, especially the lead performances in it. I feel like the women "lunatic" women are props. Again, hoping that it's just the "let's not over-emphasize the femininity!" cut of the trailer, but I am pretty turned off by it. Also, I feel like I'll have a Sandra Bullock in Gravity "what would another actress have done?" sort of experience with this. Like, what would Holly Hunter have done?...(not a Hailee Steinfeld impersonation, I'm pretty sure...)

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

"• As do opportunities to comment on the western genre in a feminine way and examine the definition of "sanity" and how sexism can apply to perceptions of the same."

Ding ding ding! You nailed the main reason that tips me into yes. I agree that bad reviews will probably keep me away, but I'm optimistic. How could I not be drawn in by those few wild-eyed shots of Miranda Otto?? I hope the role gives her something worthwhile to play. I do love her.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

In regards to the look, I like that it looks as if its actually mirroring what it would have looked like in the 1850s. Those stark, barren landscapes. Alas, as you say, there are films like MEEK'S CUTOFF that look the barren old west and made it feel vibrant and alive.

I'm a yes though. The story is mighty interesting and I'm in for the female cast (even Hilary). I'm especially keen to see Miranda Otto given her career is such a bizarre beast these days. Will be good to see her do something that isn't in the vein of I FRANKENSTEIN.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Yes. The book was a great read, even for non-Western fans as it's a human story, and one rarely told in history books about the women who settled the west. I think Hillary Swank is great casting, as well as Otto and some of other parts; TLJ may be a bit old for the role, but he's owned the rights for a long time (like Jeff Bridges with The Giver) so I'm sure he always wanted to star.

If TLJ's version stays true to the source material, this movie would appeal to fans of Meek's Cutoff rather than to fans of True Grit.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

This is totally going to Cannes, isn't it?

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNoecitos

I laughed when Jones said "Help me". I'm not too convinced, but there's a lot of talent involved.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

"You already won two Oscar for masculine deglamming, girl. "

hmm - both of her performances are better than that. Anyways, people forget that Swank can be a pretty great actress in the right part.

I'm a maybe so on this trailer. Will await reviews to decide.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I'm a yes.

The period interests me and while I don't love Hilary Swank I don't dislike her either. Her eyebrows don't seem unusually thick to me just natural and period appropriate. That's something that always bothered me in early westerns especially in the 30's the women are supposed to be roughing it but had pencil thin brows. The color isn't vivid but the prairie in the height of summer particularly if it had been a dry season often has a bleached out, muted look.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I am a YES.


Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

And if the movie was an indication (Barry Pepper, Melissa Leo, January Jones, TLJ himself), performances will be awesome.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Yes!.... Why? Meryl Streep of course 😄

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I am a Yes but ugh....Hilary Swank....

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

In all seriousness, could Hilary Swank win a third oscar? If not this year, ever?

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

Here we go with the bashing of such an easy target Hilary,how can any1 possibly comment on line readings without seeing the film good or bad.

Amelia did not get a chance 5 yrs ago and she was just as good as some of the other 2009 Actress nominees but no chance for her or her film cos she won 2 oscars too early too easily say bitter after 10 years bloggers and if this sorta bashing keeps on then there's no hope for her in this either,2014 could be a good comeback if people would let it.

She's well liked in the industry witness her semi shock SAG Actress nom for Conviction..

There are far worse actresses with limited abilities getting a lot more oppurtunities and praise than Hilary.

So she won a 2nd oscar that was depending on your OWN opinion get the hell over it.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark


List the inferior to Swank actresses?

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

It totally feels like some sort of Oscar bait from the mid 90s or the early 00s.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJesper L

Maybe. I'm intrigued at least. And I wonder if the "help me" line will be less ridiculous in context.

Also, I thought Hilary Swank was quite good in Conviction.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercash

I agree with Mark, I don't understand the constant vitriol from commenters about Hilary Swank. The Academy gave her the second Oscar...she didn't hold a gun to their heads during the voting process (or did she?).

And yeah yeah yeah, blah blah blah, Annette, Julianne, Michelle have no Oscars and Hilary has two...whatever people, get over it...these actors don't act for the awards...they act because they have a passion for the craft...the awards are just cake for a job well done.

Hillary was great in Conviction btw...totally deserved a nom for that (as did Rockwell).

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMB76

MB76--Thank you. Plus, why does every movie in production or post-production have to be discussed in terms of its Oscar baity-ness? Unless the production company on this will be pulling a TWC and releasing it wide in December, can we at least wait until someone has actually seen it at a festival to talk awards???

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I'm a yes. I'm not a huge fan of westerns but the ones I do like are similar in style to this one, the fact that this focuses on women makes it an even easier sell since that's rarely the case in this genre.

I like Hilary Swank, even in Million Dollar Baby, but she's not someone who's work I necessarily seek out.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Yes--Period, subject (never heard this story before), attention to detail (yes, the plains look washed out---a LOT), TLJ (he rarely disappoints me).

No--Swank (rarely do I enjoy her, I don't hate her, I just don't like her work), madness (so easy to play, everything is a valid choice and chewing the woodwork is a given), the trailer itself was a mess--needed some longer shots.

Maybe So--I'm leaning here. I want it to work because of my yes section. Streep looks good and is hopefully giving a quiet performance which I want to see from her.

I hope this is better than the trailer makes it out to be. I usually find the trailers are better than the film which would make this poor, but again, I hope that isn't the case here.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

to 3rtful

Emma Stone,Kate Hudson,Katherine Heigl,Hayley Atwell,Bryce Dallas Howard,Cameron Diaz,Mila Kunis,Emma Watson,Abigail Breslin,Hailee Steinfeld,Natalie PortmanAnne Hathaway,Amanda Seyfried.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Bryce Dallas Howard inferior to Swank? Dear Lord, what a joke.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo

I'm a NO. I didn't like the tone nor the photography and I am especially affected by both Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank 'somber acting'. And Swank really needs to loosen up, do a secondary character in a O. Russell movie or something like that (I know it's cliché but there's a reason why everyone recommends a O. Russell movie in our beloved stars' diet; look at what he does with anyone who works with him).

And Tommy Lee.. Needs to latch on to Meryl and play her grumpy husband in every movie she makes :) Hope Springs was Jones at his most bearable in ages! Almost the antithesis of what he played in In the Valley of Elah.

Plus, it looks like a cheap version of MEEK'S CUTOFF with the crazy ladies part added to the story. Bah.

P.S. GONE GIRL trailer. Giving off a very cool, Fincher-y vibe. If it translates well, it'll be a huge hit.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay

I loved Three Burials and am always rooting for fresh takes on the western genre, so I'm an absolute yes. Hilary is an terribly unreliable performer but I think this kind of role is well within her wheelhouse.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

I think it looks breathtaking both visually and thematically. beautiful cinematography and looks like some great performances

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterandrew

mmm. Only a maybe so for me.

Glad to see Miranda Otto.

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

Watched it again (looking for the manly eyebrows)......Nat, I hear what you are saying, but I also think Swank is limited to a certain type of woman. When she has tried to play the girly girl, it has never really worked for her (Affair of he Necklace anyone?), certainly not as it does in less feminine roles and this character has a definite lesbian, schoolmarmish, self sufficiency vibe(no intent to offend the sufficient lesbian or non lesbian schoolmarms in our midst (I'm going to resist the desire to name names but we all know who you are.)).

I only got the eyebrow intrusion once....the plow closeup. I think its a period choice rather than a de-glam choice. Now, if she hikes the petticoats and straddles one of the horses.............

I want this film to work. I trust Jones. Hope I'm not wrong.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

"Hillary was great in Conviction btw...totally deserved a nom for that."

She may have deserved a nomination, but there were only five slots. And there were five actresses who were more deserving (actually more than five), and five more deserving actresses received nominations. A rarity for Oscar.

I was actually surprised how lenient Nat was with Swank. He was being really nice.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCinesnatch

Actors who have 3 or more acting Oscars: Hepburn, Nicholson, Streep. I don't mind Hilary Swank but she ain't winning a 3rd. Fairly or not she won and peaked early , and much like Sally Field the academy will likely feel she has been rewarded enough at this point

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRami

I'm a Yes, of course.
I'll watch everything with Meryl in it, even if she only appears for two minutes.
She looks great in the picture. Isn't it great she still takes small parts where she's not the eye of attention?
And I'm hopeful this could be Grace's breakthrough in film.

As for Hilary Swank, she's definitely not one of my favorite actresses, but I don't mind her. The win for "Boy's don't cry" is richly deserved and though I don't like her win for M$B, I understand why she won for that.
Of course it's a strange coincidence her closest rival in 1999 and 2004 was Annette Bening, but she just didn't stand a chance to win in both years. (or in any year tbh)

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Tell me Gustavo when did Bryce Dallas Howard with her family connections to give her a step on the success ladder last blow you away with a performance as good as Swanks in Boys dont cry who came from poorer origins and made if big,i mean the only way the vitriol will stop is if we travel back in time and let AB win in 99 then maybe someone else in 04.

It is so boring the Swank bashing esp here Nat it's beneath you.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I am a yes because it's a western and there are far too few of them made these days. That this happens to look like it'll be a pretty good, atypical western is just an added pleasure. I can't wait to see this.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Hilary is a very interesting figure. No other double Best Actress winner is so controversial. I think she deserved both of her Oscars. But I also think she was a beneficiary of two great roles at the perfect times in Oscar history. She was definitely the best of all the nominees in those respective years. However, she really has not lived up to the promise of those Academy Awards with both her other performances and her choice of roles. So while I agree with her wins, I also think she's earned the backlash.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

How do you EARN backlash,do you really believe someone with 2 oscars takes the cheque and runs,when they sign on there are a number of different reasons story,location,director,co stars,wanting to try a different genre,stetch a bit then people don't say she's only good in butch de glam parts,also there are few scripts for women like Swank,i agree she can be hard to cast in rom com type parts but all her contemporaries are fighting for the same roles and she has to live peeps.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Be realistic. Of course there's backlash. This woman has two Best Actress Oscars...do you realize how rare that is! There are expectations and there should be. Sorry, but I can't name one other truly great performance she's ever done besides these two.

And no, I don't hate her.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

For what it's worth, Hilary's two Oscars at least come from performances and films that are infinitely better than, say, Tom Hanks' two Oscars.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

You earn backlash through arrogance and lack of humility (or the appearance of such). You also earn backlash unfairly by being blamed for causing someone else to lose an award. Winning Oscars is a double edged sword, leaning to the sharp, jagged edge. It hurts Swank that she has a relatively small filmography and such a wide range of success in her role choices for a double winner so early in her career.

I think Swank has had limited success in choosing roles and in how she presents herself to the public. I also think she isn't very realistic about her limitations (which every actor has). Either she doesn't have a very helpful support team, or she doesn't always listen to them. I understand her desire not to be typed, but some actors are a type and it would certainly have helped if she had taken more roles in "small" pictures with less expectation and less fanfare and worked within her type, stretching it rather than trying to work against it.

This role, from what the trailer shows, appears to suit her. And when a role suits her talents, it works really well I hope thats the case here.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Ingrid Bergman and Walter Brennan have three Oscars. What are they? Chopped liver?

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCinesnatch

Henry, you make a great point about Swank not being realistic about her abilities. She seems awkward on screen in vehicles like Amelia that rely on a strong charismatic leading lady. I think she is more suited to finding the tension within a character study and going from there. She simply is not a movie star, and that is where some of these roles are falling flat. But in the right psychological milieu, as in her two prize-winning roles, she really nails it. And she did.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Swank looks amazing! Holy shit. Bitch is after a THIRD Oscar! I ain't mad at cha, gurl! Get it bitch!

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

Hilary Swank 100% deserved her first Oscar. The second one is iffy only because she doesn't deserve two Oscars, not because it wasn't a good performance. That's what I think. The rest of her career is iffy but it really just seems like she got lucky picking those two roles that happened to win Oscars, Million Dollar Baby at least, as that was more about the movie than the performance--Best Pic, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, etc.

She looks pretty good in this role, though. I hear some good line readings.

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

mark -- i thought i was pretty nice to her here. i use to be much meaner :)

brookesboy -- eh. best both times? I think she's good in Million Dollar Baby but no more than that and certainly not the best of the nominees that year. I'd rank her dead last (by a significant margin) in 2004. but then I think Bening / Winslet / and Staunton were all kind of freakishly perfect in their films. I've never had a problem with her first win which is a great great performance (though still only my second favorite that year after the non-nominated Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke!)

April 15, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathan, I'm not a big fan of Bening and Winslet that year, though both were very good. Something was missing there. Staunton excelled, she would be my No. 2. For me, Swank tapped into a reserve of loneliness and desperation with so much honesty that really moved me. On a purely emotional level, the other nominees didn't come close. JMO.

April 16, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I am such a passionate lover of Westerns, and this gives me optimism.


April 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I can't handle how little Streep there is in this trailer. Just one line, and I would've been happy!

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

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