By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Countdown To Cannes: Tommy Lee Jones

The first in a series of snapshots outlining the eighteen directors in the 67th Palme d’Or Competition.

in-the-electric-mist-tavernier-lee-jonesBackground: American; born San Saba, Texas, 1946.

Known for / style: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Fugitive, TV’s “Lonesome Dove” series, No Country for Old Men; The Good Old Boys; a gruff, dour disposition; acting in (and directing) Westerns, both contemporary and period.

Notable accolades: As directing is still a sidebar to the Tommy Lee Jones franchise, Jones’ acting awards usually receive first bill. At the top of the list is his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1993’s The Fugitive, but close behind are his three other Academy Award nominations (Best Supporting Actor, Lincoln, 2012; Best Actor, In the Valley of Elah, 2007; Best Supporting Actor, JFK, 1992). Jones also won Best Actor at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which he directed. He also can brandish a fistful of BAFTA, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominations.

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: The Homesman, an Old West oater adapted from the 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout (Where The Boys Are, The Shootist). From the IMDb plot summary: “A claim jumper and a pioneer woman team up to escort three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa.” Winning both the Spur and the Wrangler awards for Best Western Novel of 1988, The Homesman is the seventh film to be adapted from Swarthout’s canon. The film features Oscar-noted  talents Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Meryl Streep and John Lithgow.

Previous Cannes appearances: Tommy Lee Jones’ only Cannes appearance (as director) is 2005’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which played in Competition. It won Jones the Best Actor prize.

Could it win the Palme? On the acting alone, any film with Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, and Tommy Lee Jones is going to be intimidating. But Jones is directing inside his favorite milieu with the American Old West, and he’s wrangled Academy Award-nominated Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street, Argo, Brokeback Mountain) to capture the glorious environments and Academy Award-nominated Marco Beltrami to score the film. While Oscar voters and Cannes juries rarely align, it’s still hard to discount the forces at work here, and the artistic merits of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada speak to the strength of Jones’ directorial whip-cracking. If The Homesman leaves the South of France empty-handed, it could mean that we have a very strong slate indeed.

Why you should care: Like a cowboy and his rifle, Jones and good Westerns go hand-in-hand. Fans of the genre should look forward to one made by someone who clearly loves them, and Jones has brought along Western veterans and Oscar favorites for the ride. With The Homesman, we’ll also check in again on Hailee Steinfeld, whose last Western outing earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod (2010’s True Grit). If nothing else, though, expect this film to gallop its way into a number of awards categories later in the year.

Follow Jake Howell on Twitter: @Jake_Howell

2 Responses to “Countdown To Cannes: Tommy Lee Jones”

  1. Tina Ellis says:

    One of my favorite actors!!!! If Tommy Lee Jones is in it you can bet he’s bring his A game. Anxiously awaiting its arival in the states!!!

  2. Michelle Schulz says:

    I can not wait!! For the release of this film. The trailer is wonderful. Tommy Lee Jones has another Classic Western on his hands!!!

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
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“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
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