George’s (Tommy Lee Jones) character in The Homesman (2014) pulls up in front of a hotel in the middle of nowhere seeking nothing out of the ordinary. He asks for lodging and food, is willing to pay, and shows complete hospitality to the hotel management. Nonetheless, he’s turned away by Aloysius Duffy (James Spader), the hotel owner who claims a big group of investors are soon to arrive, and not-so-subtly indicates he doesn’t want George’s sort of riff-raff turning off potential partners.
Duffy is a greedy, sanctimonious man who won’t even provide George and the women with food they can take on the road. He denies them every form of courtesy George requests simply because he has the means to, and despite the fact the hotel was completely devoid of people and packed with rations. Duffy shows absolutely no compassion shown for those less fortunate, and he comes across as the type of fellow who would see providing George and the women with any provisions as a loss to his perfect business. It’s arguable that the movie’s intention is to show the cutthroat nature of many of the businessmen who settled and founded large amounts of America, as they were often regarded people of great means but lousy character. The hotel owner’s business wasn’t just about the hotel itself, but the huge expanses of land surrounding the building which he had parceled off and clearly hoped to sell and develop an entire town. The business potential was huge, and that’s all he cared about.
George’s character, while brazen and apathetic at times, also displayed compassion just as often. He couldn’t accept someone like Duffy turning away people so clearly in need. He doesn’t accept that people like Duffy will be the ones cultivating the west and finishing on top. He takes it upon himself to inflict instant karma, stealing Duffy’s food for the women and torching his precious hotel, effectively eliminating Duffy and his men.
Sheila O’Malley on RogerEbert.com interprets it well: “The strangest section of the film involves a stop-over at the Fairfield Hotel, standing alone in the middle of the plains, like an Andrew Wyeth painting, reminiscent of Sam Shepard's house in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. The smooth-talking Irishman proprietor hopes to attract investors to this little spot in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sheer emptiness. So he's a little nuts, too. Beautifully conceived and shot, the section is a tangent, but it is extremely revealing about Briggs' character, as well as a sardonic, pointed commentary about the concept of civilization.”