HOSTILES

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Scott Cooper.

Stars: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Jonathan Majors, Rory Cochrane, Scott Shepherd, David Midthunder, Stephen Lang, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Timothée Chalamet, Adam Beach, Scott Wilson, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tanaya Beatty, Ryan Bingham.

See the source image

Christian Bale returns to the western genre for the first time since the remake of 3.10 To Yuma in 2007. Hostiles also reunites him with director Scott Cooper, who put him through his paces in the gritty urban drama Out Of The Furnace.

Taking place in 1892, Hostiles is a brutal and violent western that is set at the end of the old, wild and lawless west. Hostiles is also something of a revisionist western as it looks at the inherent racism of the time but also serves up a more sympathetic view of the treatment of the native Americans who had lost much of their territory to western expansion. The film deals with themes of loss and reconciliation and its tone is more reflective at times.

Cavalry Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) is a war hero whose reputation was forged on the battlefields where he fought the Apaches and Cherokees. Blocker is ordered by Colonel Biggs (Stephen Lang, from Avatar, etc) to escort Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi, from Geronimo, etc), an ailing Cheyenne chief, from the isolated outpost of Fort Berringer to his tribal lands Montana, where he will be allowed to die in peace following a Presidential pardon for his crimes. Yellow Hawk is accompanied by his family, including son Black Hawk (Adam Beach, from Suicide Squad, etc) and Black Hawk’s wife Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher, from The New World, etc) and their young son.

Initially Blocker is a little conflicted by this duty given his past duties hunting down Indians and Yellow Hawk’s murderous activities before he was captured. But facing the threat of court martial, Blocker reluctantly agrees to undertake this one final assignment. Accompanying him on this mission are Corporal Woodson (Jonathan Majors); Lieutenant Kidder (Jesse Plemmons, from Game Night, etc), a West Point graduate; Master Sergeant Metz (Rory Cochrane); and the young and inexperienced teenaged Philippe DeJardin (Timothee Chalamet, from Call Me By Your Name, etc).

They have to across a harsh wilderness, where they discover that Indians are not the only hostiles to worry about. The mission is further complicated when the party encounters the widowed Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike, from Gone Girl, etc), whose family has been butchered by marauding Indians. The embittered and grieving Rosalie joins the party on their perilous 1500-mile cross-country journey, full of resentment towards her fellow travellers. But during the journey the former enemies begin to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s lives and the choices they have made, especially when they join forces to fight off a raiding party of vicious Comanches.

Hostiles is based on an unpublished story originally written by the late Donald Stewart, who died in 1999, a screenwriter who wrote the scripts for Patriot Games and A Clear And Present Danger, etc. Stewart’s widow apparently found the unpublished manuscript when moving house, and she sent it to Cooper, believing that he could do it justice. Within the broad framework of the traditional western tropes, Cooper addresses the darker history of the American west and the genocide of the native American tribes. Hostiles is more in the vein of Robert Aldrich (Ulzana’s Raid, etc), Ralph Nelson’s Soldier Blue, and the films of Anthony Mann or the western stories of Larry McMurtry (the epic Lonesome Dove, etc).

Technical contributions are all excellent, and Jenny Eagan’s costumes reek of authenticity. The beautiful widescreen lensing from Cooper’s regular cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey, etc) gives the film the look and feel of the classic westerns from John Ford, who set many of his films amongst the grandeur of Monument Valley’s epic scenery. The film was largely shot outdoors in Arizona and New Mexico, but the harsh landscapes perfectly suit the film’s bleaker tone.

Cooper draws strong performances from his cast. Bale brings a stoic and brooding quality to his performance as the tortured Blocker, who, like John Wayne’s unrepentantly racist and vengeful Ethan Edwards, wears his prejudice like a badge of honour. His character undergoes the greatest emotional change during the course of the film as he rediscovers his basic humanity, which Bale manages to depict with subtle nuances. Pike has a feisty quality, while Studi brings a quiet grace and dignity to his underwritten role. Ben Foster brings a touch of menace to his role as Wills, a soldier accused of murder.

★★★

Speak Your Mind