Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is a bossy piano-playing priss who’s made a success of life in the western territories of the 1850s but can’t persuade any man to marry her. When three women deranged by dead children, savage husbands and the frozen wastelands need to be transported to a church in Iowa for eventual return East, Mary Bee volunteers to escort them and enlists George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones, on directing duties) to assist her after she cuts him down from a hanging tree. She wants to do good deeds, he just wants $300 – “That’s all there is. There ain’t no more.” Her insistence on Christian burials sees her get into a number of scrapes including a brief solo odyssey which eventually drives her into his arms against his will, more or less, after she fails to persuade him that together in marriage they could both prosper. “I ain’t attached to nothin’, just me … You asked me, I didn’t ask you.” He finds her suspended body the following morning in a neat poetic refusal of life and an echo of their first encounter. He affords her the decent burial she would have wanted and then burns down a hotel where he and the women are refused succour – after first abandoning them. They are eventually delivered mutely to their destination, the sole word uttered on their journey “Lie” after they witness the fireside lovemaking that takes Mary Bee away from them. His desire to bury Mary Bee with an engraved wooden plate is literally swept overboard by an overzealous oarsman while Georgy dances the night away downriver in his new gentlemanly attire. Jones makes a fine, dark Western here, with memorable women and some scenes reminiscent of both Giant (1956) and Days of Heaven (1978), and a tip of the hat to the remake of True Grit (2010) by casting Hailee Steinfeld in a small role. Understated, beautiful and moving, this is a wonderful modern Western and a great tribute to the women who went wild on the frontier
‘Do I feel lucky?’ ‘Charlie don’t surf!’ ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning.’ Indelible lines, written by one of the men who shaped Seventies cinema. John Milius is a maverick, a genius, a Zen anarchist, a surfing samurai, a great storyteller. Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, Jeremiah Johnson, The Wind and the Lion, the USS Indianapolis speech in Jaws, Big Wednesday,Apocalypse Now … the list goes on, but that would be enough. Happy birthday, Mr Milius.