Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster
Director: Scott Cooper
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Set in 1892, Hostiles tells the story of a legendary Army Captain (Christian Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal lands. Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains. Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way.
Scott Cooper’s Hostiles goes to new heights in the development of the neo-Western and tackles many difficult subjects throughout the film. Whether it is grief, bigotry, PTSD, or the American genocide of the Native Americans, this film goes great lengths to discuss issues foreign to the traditional Western. While the film tries to do a little too much sometimes, it takes a unique story and is complemented by superb acting from Bale and Pike.
The film starts out with Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Bale) having to transport the sickly Yellow Hawk (Studi) back to Montana so that he can die in his home territory. Blocker objects to this assignment because him and Yellow Hawk had been at war with one another years ago and Yellow Hawk had killed many of Blocker’s friends, but he reluctantly agrees rather that taking a Court Marshall. Along the way, they pick up a grieving Rosalie Quaid (Pike), who had just witnessed the murder of her husband and three daughters by a group of Comanches. Throughout the film, we see these two deal with their issues and how dangerous the power of generalizing people can be. For Blocker, I got the feeling that we would be bigoted towards all minorities, but that idea is proven false due to his equal treatment of one of his black soldiers (Jonathan Majors). I believe this is the most important casting decision in the movie, because it shows that it is not ignorance that forms Blocker’s hatred, but his negative personal experiences. Through his journey with Yellow Hawk, he learns to see past his hatred and understand that just because they were enemies in the past does not mean they cannot learn from one another and understand each other’s values. For Quaid, at first she is hesitant about traveling with Native Americans due to her recent trauma, but over time, she begins to understand that the actions of a select group of people are not representative of those people as a whole, and that there are good people and bad people in every race. One of the interesting supporting story lines comes from Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane), one of the soldiers in Blocker’s troop, who suffers from a long history of PTSD. He has experienced the horrors of war for so long and knows that he will never live a normal life. One of the more moving parts of the film was when Metz admits the wrongdoings of the American government towards the Native Americans. This is incredibly moving because it shows that even though he voluntarily took part in these actions, he now understands that this was not right and that both he and the Native Americans have to suffer the consequences for his actions. While the story definitely feels like there are a lot of things going at the same time and tries to tackle many complicated issues in 133 minutes, the presence of Bale and Pike are essential to conveying the message of this movie and do an amazing job of showing their character’s pain and development.
Overall, when you put Christian Bale in a movie, I am probably going to like it, and this film continues that trend. An underrated aspect of the film was the cinematography, especially the wide nature shots that capture just how grand of a journey they are going on throughout the film. As we see the Western continue to evolve, I think we will begin to see more social commentaries like Hostiles on different issues in America’s past. The combination for Scott Cooper and Masanobu Takayanagi puts out another strong display after Black Mass in 2015 and I hope they continue to work together on another great project in the future.
Overall Score: 8/10