There’s something about the hard-scrabble American frontier that stirs my blood and disturbs my dreams. Not the romantic West of John Wayne movies, perhaps, but the appalling, grinding, tragic reality of The Homesman, directed by Tommy Lee Jones. All creaking wagon wheels, and compliant mules, and the slow, endless sigh of seas of grass (remember Meeks Cut-off?), this tells the tale of three young wives who, literally driven to distraction and despair by the sheer brutality of life on the front range, are to be chained up and carted off to an asylum back east. To get them there, across plains of hostile natives and shortages of food and warmth, they need a Homesman to get them to Iowa safely. Except the only worthy candidate on this part of the Nebraskan prairie is a homeswoman, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), plain, bossy and desperately lonely. It’s a slow movie, a little too slow in places, but it’s grim and beautiful and fierce and a sight to behold.

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