Another hidden gem slips under the radar.
The Homesman Film Review
Tommy Lee Jones' sophomore writer/director/actor (anti-)Western puts Hilary Swank front and centre in a time of pure madness.One of the first Blu-ray entries in 2015’s unofficial Year of the Western, this little-known feature all but slipped under everybodys' radars on its theatrical run, released late last year with next to no promotion to audiences who probably aren't all that interested in a Western starring a grizzly pushing-70 Jones and the once-promising Swank, who hasn't had a critical or commercial success in a decade, and based on a book that few will have heard of by an acclaimed (late) author who hasn't had a book adapted into film since the 70s. Indeed it has been almost that long since Glendon Swarthout's novel was first optioned to be made into a film (he wrote the book that was made into Wayne's career-capping The Shootist); 1988 saw Paul Newman attached to the role now taken by Tommy Lee Jones, a role which would have certainly suited the actor for much the same reason that it appeals to Jones now.Bleak and brutal, dark and oppressive, The Homesman's portrayal of the Old West - more specifically the mid-West, in the mid-1800s - manages to elicit a combination of Western, Revisionist Western and Anti-Western sentiments. It also provides a very rare insight into women during the period; painting refreshingly authentic portraits of not one, but four different young woman all struggling to survive within the antiquated remarkably insular expanse of the West. Boasting some striking visuals of the sumptuous open plains, some even more bleak portrayals of the prejudice and preconceptions that defined the era, and a tremendously evocative sound that positively brings the howling cold-swept expanses to life, The Homesman is a worthy addition to the genre. But in the meantime, don't miss out on little gems like this, no matter how hidden they are.
Blu-ray Picture QualityProving himself, once again, a keen eye when it comes to directing, Tommy Lee Jones’ latest effort rises to the occasion on the visual front, with Entertainment One’s Region B-locked Blu-ray release providing a faithful representation of the beautiful vistas and well-framed sequences in this superior little Western.
Packed with claustrophobic interiors and sumptuous open range vistas, The Homesman looks stunning.
This 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen, is popping with excellent detail and impressive shots, courtesy of a seamless blend of digital and film-based camerawork. Close-ups reveal every wrinkle on Jones’ visage, whilst bringing interior rooms to life and managing to elicit distinction between each abode through beautiful use of colours, shadows and textures. Irrespective of the lighting on offer – one particularly striking scene appears lit only by candles – the detail remains resolved, with very little in the way of digital anomalies or defects to disrupt your visual enjoyment of the feature.
Sure, as is seemingly hard to escape these days, there’s a hint of banding for those with keen eyes, but you’ll likely be focussed enough on the beauty of the whole to forgive these minor slips. With a healthy range of colours – as stated the style allows each individual scene to come to life with distinction, particularly when it comes to the winter sequences – that are heavily populated with, but not dominated by, wood browns, and with strong black levels underpinning the foundations, this is a great video presentation, and demo worthy in its own right.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is just as impressive, in its own quiet, reflective way. Although peppered with a few louder gunshots – and even explosions and fires – and focussing keenly on the promotion of clear and coherent dialogue throughout the piece, it’s the score that remains the most memorable aural element on offer.
As sumptuous as the visuals are, this would be a lesser film without Beltrami’s understated score.
Bringing forth elements of unexpected humour, bitterness, depravity, horror and violence, Marco Beltrami’s subtle but powerful score underpins the entire audio track, giving the feature some welcome depth in what is otherwise and atmospheric but ambient-based affair. Although the polar opposite of bombastic, it has great resonance, and gets to you as much as any of the more shocking narrative turns on offer.
Blu-ray ExtrasAlthough not brimming with extra features, the featurette-based selection on offer still provides over an hour of supplemental material, headlined by a trio of compelling featurettes. The Story spends 21 minutes looking at the original screenplay, and the novel that it was fashioned from; Shooting the Film spends the best part of half an hour on-set with the location shooting; and The Western closes the trio with a 12-minute look at establishing a tale which is set in, but not defined by, its Western period. All three boast welcome cast and crew interview snippets and are sure to engage those interested in learning more about the production. The features are rounded off by The Homesman at Cannes, which looks at its festival premiere, as well as some previews.
The Homesman Blu-ray VerdictWith the likes of everybody from Leonardo Di Caprio to Kurt Russell, Michael Fassbender to Natalie Portman, Mads Mikkelsen to the all-star cast of The Hateful Eight all invested in the age-old genre, 2015 is quite aptly – though still fairly quietly and unofficially – called the 'Year of the Western'. Although technically a late 2014 release, for those who missed it, the 2015 Blu-ray release of Tommy Lee Jones’s sophomore writer/director effort, The Homesman, will make a worthy addition to the fold.
Jones' vision of the West is both striking in its bleak brutality and refreshingly original in its portrayal of women from the period.
Entertainment One’s Region B-locked UK Blu-ray boasts excellent video and audio, as well as a solid set of extras, leaving it a must-have purchase for fans of Jones or the genre, and a recommended rental – if not even blind buy – for those interested in a surprisingly stylish and evocative little feature whose story transcends any genre restrictions to become something of a modern gem. Hunt it down now.
You can buy The Homesman on Blu-ray here
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