The Homesman, the second feature film directed by Academy Award winning actor Tommy Lee Jones, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18th to good, if slightly muted notices, appears to have found North American distribution. Freshly minted company Saban Films snapped up the rights to the period western, a notable entry seeing as it’s Saban Films’ first ever acquisition– the distributor was launched on May 6th by wealthy media mogul Haim Saban. Tommy Lee Jones co-stars with two-time Academy Award winning actress Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby.)
The intriguing premise to The Homesman offers an unusual conceit in that it tells of a story of women in a genre mostly identified with overt masculinity. Swank plays a single (perhaps spinster-ish) pioneer woman who, with the assistance of curmudgeon claims jumper (Jones) volunteers to escort three women driven to the brink of madness by life on the prairie. Jones co-wrote the screenplay with Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley A. Oliver, based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout. The film also stars John Lithgow, Miranda Otto, Tim Blake Nelson, Hailee Steinfeld, Grace Gummer, and features Meryl Streep in a small role. Oscar nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, The Wolf of Wall Street) lensed the film. Interestingly– proving the long gestating interest in the story– the late Paul Newman was interested in making a film version of the story as the screen legend owned the rights to the story at one point.
Jones’ only prior feature film as a director was the critically acclaimed 2005 modern western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which while a hit at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival (where Jones won the coveted Best Actor prize and the film also snagged a Screenplay prize) drifted into near obscurity outside the festival and deep cinephile fold, despite a swift awards and marketing campaign from Sony Pictures Classics. Based on early reaction, it appears that The Homesman, while accomplished in its own right, may not exactly have a firmly accessible hook to bring in an audience or win any favor during the awards season. Robbie Collin from the Daily Telegraph wrote of the film, “The mood flits between solemn and rascally, and the pacing is measured: this is storytelling at a mosey rather than a trot,” in his positive review of the film. Try putting that on a movie poster.
However The Homesman has a home and will hopefully reach American cinemas at some point this year. The marketing muscle of Saban Films remains to be seen, as it is a young copmany. “I am delighted that Saban Films has chosen ‘The Homesman’ to begin their venture into film release,” said Jones in a statement. “Our company has full confidence in Saban Films and I sincerely hope we will serve them well.” In the meantime, Saban and the filmmakers associated with The Homesman surely hope this weekend will bring good news; perhaps a Cannes prize to tout as well.