Tommy Lee Jones builds on his promising 2005 debut with another western road movie of sorts which trades the Cormac McCarthy style border fare of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada in favor of a classic period setting. It's streamlined, better looking and tighter than its predecessor but still seems to suffer from the same heavy hand.
The setup, which concerns an unlikely pair tasked with carting three insane women across state, is enticing indeed but ultimately perhaps a little too cute. Whatever the case, Jones gets to it fast.
Hillary Swank plays Mary Dee Cuddy, a hardy, successful farmer in her early thirties who still hopes in earnest to wed. Everyone calls her bossy; it’s tough to disagree. A cruel winter leaves three of her community's young women in various degrees of mental disrepair and when their utterly useless husbands decide that enough’s enough, the pastor (John Lithgow) offers a way out.
The men will draw to decide which husband of the three will be charged with escorting the women to an asylum across state. Cuddy agrees to draw herself and, of course, ends up with the job. She finds Tommy Lee Jones strung up to a tree and agrees to free him if he'll come along for the ride. The deal is done and the unlikely pair duly set out.
Jones has shown himself, for better and worse, to be a director enameled with the past. Just take a look at this film's opening frames; wide open scenery over rich yearning chords; a hardened lonely woman plows the land; a shot through a doorway recalls John Ford. His films are full of these nice little detailed ideas but more often than not they just struggle to gel; we're still attempting to digest James Spader's turn as a wealthy Irish Hotelier, perhaps we never will.
The director has managed to tone everything down nicely from his impressive, if somewhat scattered debut but he's just not quite there yet. Not to worry though, we're sure there'll be more to come and besides, Meryl Streep shows up in a bonnet. What's not to like?
Tune in tomorrow for a first look review of Cronenberg and Pattinson's Maps to the Stars.