Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones. I had to see this movie for a real publication, but it’s one of the rare instances where it’s a movie that I would have wanted to see anyway. He has two other films under his belt as a director, the quietly remarkable The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and the quietly amazing The Sunset Limited. Based on those two movies (and on his impressive and varied acting filmography, for that matter), no one can accuse TLJ of pandering for Oscar bait, but this one might actually turn some Oscar heads (if you’re into that kind of thing). This is a very quiet, understated character piece about these two strange bedfellows (figuratively and literally), and a quiet little think piece about the whole idea of Western expansion, a direct contradiction to the contemporary attitude of American manifest destiny over the continent: a story based on the premise that the West would be best left unsettled. What I find interesting about this story, is the direction it puts that argument in. This isn’t the grating, insultingly obvious open-door-knocking thesis of Dances With Wolves that it would have been better for the American Aboriginals if Western settlers had just stayed East. Fucking obviously it would have been better for Aboriginal societies if Western settlers had just stayed East. This film’s thesis is that it would have been better for Western settlers themselves if they had just stayed East. The film is a fairly original unfolding of that idea, using a plot that goes step by step, in discrete little chunks (almost, dare I say it, in Kubrickian “non-submersible units”), each of them progressing along the path that leads to the insane women being delivered to the care of a nun (Meryl Streep, but luckily she’s got a short enough screentime to prevent everything being too Streepy), and eventually leads to Tommy Lee Jones’ lone cowboy outlaw on a simple raft, drifting out into the dark, full of strangers and oddballs and misfits, bound for God knows where, as he dances and sings like a lunatic in the torchlight. I love that take on masculinity, that take on the cowboy figure, and that image, which speaks volumes for American mythology and how it sees itself in this second decade of the 21st century. Overall, it’s a pretty great little film, and the performances of Jones and Hilary Swank ought to at least draw some fucking award nominations—I know those things are phony baloney nonsense anyway, but come on.