This movie has three Oscar winners in it (although Meryl Streep is only in one scene). The last time Streep and Tommy Lee Jones got together, it was the disastrous Hope Springs. The last time Jones did a western was his first stab at directing. It was the slightly amusing The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. He’s back in the saddle again…producing, directing, writing, and starring in this western that deals with frontier life for women. Spoiler alert – it wasn’t pleasant.
John Lithgow starts the story off as a preacher in the Nebraska Territory – around the mid 1800s. There are three women in town (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) that have gone nuts. It’s decided that they’ll be taken to a church across the Missouri River. Straws are drawn to see who will go, and it falls into the hands of Mary Bee Cutty (Hilary Swank). You see, the men in their life (William Fitchner, Jesse Plemons, and David Dencik) aren’t going to spend a month on the dangerous journey.
For some reason, Mary Bee has trouble finding a man. When one guy joins her for dinner, he seems bored by her and her singing. She suggests they get married and combine their land. He’s having none of it. When he calls her “plain and bossy,” we understand the bossy part. But plain? She not only looked cute, but I’m guessing there weren’t a lot of super models prancing through the prairie.
So off she goes to pick up a specially designed carriage to take the three crazy women, when she happens upon George Briggs (Jones). He was claim jumping another man’s ranch and was hanging from a tree when she cuts him lose and saves his life. She isn’t stupid (and remember, she’s bossy). She tells him she’ll cut him down if he helps her make the trek. She also sweetens the pot by offering him some cash.
Jones starred in the Coen brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men. He adapted McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited for HBO. Yet he went with Glendon Swarthout’s 1988 novel for this western, and it’s a mixed bag.
This movie isn’t for everybody. Tonally, it’s a mess.
Sometimes scenes didn’t fit with the rest of the story. My colleague Scott Marks hated a scene where another man scoops up one of the women that’s run off. For me, it was an early scene with an explosion. Jones runs out of a cabin in long johns, messed up hair, and black soot all over his face. Perhaps that scene would’ve worked with the Coen’s or a screwball comedy, but not in this.
As a director, Jones should’ve made the movie more about women and how they dealt with frontier life, instead of him being the main show.
The film is helped tremendously by the string score of Marco Beltrami, and the cinematography of the great Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Argo, Wolf of Wall Street).
This is going to be a bit dark for most people, but fans of westerns should check it out.
It gets 3 stars out of 5.