The unpredictability of life in the Wild West, reflected in the unpredictability of Tommy Lee Jones' Western, The Homesman. It's a strange and silly (though not to say it's no good) case of art imitating life, rather than representing it. That's all very well when said life is actually lifelike - The Homesman is altogether too bizarre at its core to deal in anything approaching realism, and so we have an alternative vision of life, imitated, then smoothed over with a facade of conventionality. The film is an instant curio - in immediate retrospect, it's easy to recall Jones' daring and his appreciation of beauty and poetry with admiration, and equally easy to recall the twists and turns of the film's plot and its tone alike with befuddlement. There's little discernibly representative of reality in Jones' penchant for slapstick, perhaps more in a few flashes of horror here and there; it's the brutal jolting between these touches that best gives the viewer an impression of the ruthlessness of these characters' existences. If it's possible to respect a filmmaker's lack of care in the comfort of his audience, Jones doesn't exactly foster that respect, neglecting to replace that care with much else. The Homesman's shallow commercial sheen provides sustenance only for as long as the film lasts. One acknowledges Jones' good intentions, including the reverence with which he draws upon genre inspiration, but these alone do not a good movie make. They do make for compelling viewing, however, and have reaped notable rewards: an evocative score from Marco Beltrami, crisp cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto, whose creative restraint is peculiarly welcome, and committed performances from a talented cast enliven the film considerably.