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Swank impresses in grim Western drama

The Homesman (15A)HHH

n The Stars: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Hailee Steinfeld, Meryl Streep.

n The Story: When three women driven by harsh conditions lost their sanity, two Westerners are tasked with taking them on a long journey to a better life.

HILARY SWANK is the best thing about this unconventional Western starring and directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Swank, a double Oscar winner for previous performances in Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don't Cry, is superb in this grim, slow-moving drama.

She and Jones make engaging sparring partners as two very different characters tasked with going on a lengthy journey across 1850s America.

Swank is Mary Bee Cuddy, an unmarried woman who has made a home for herself in a small farming community in Nebraska. But life on the Frontier is harsh and when three women in the community fall foul of mental illness for various reasons, she's the only one man enough to bring them on a journey that could take several weeks.

A religious minister and his wife have offered a safe home to the woman in a town across the Mississippi in Iowa.

But when she realises just how long and perilous the journey by covered wagon will be, she employs a low-life drifter to accompany her - and help her keep the women safe and under control.

As the subject matter implies, this story is heavy going at times. But payback comes in the form of strong storytelling and great performances from the two leads - especially Swank, exceptional as a woman struggling in harsh times.

n THE VERDICT: A bleak but engaging survival tale from America's Mid-West.

Esther McCarthy

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