January 5th, 2018
STARRING: CHRISTIAN BALE; ROSAMUND PIKE; WES STUDI; JESSE PLEMONS
DIRECTED BY: SCOTT COOPER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
I saw a commercial for Hostiles during the holiday break, which had a quote from a film critic that stated, “Hostiles is the best western since Unforgiven”. I’ve heard that phrase so many times, you would think Unforgiven was the only western ever made and frankly, there have been multiple successful westerns since Clint Eastwood’s best-picture winning film. That’s not to say that Hostiles isn’t good. Director Scott Cooper has put together a violent film that involves a northern army general (Christian Bale) who spent his career hunting Native Americans, and now must escort Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), one of his past enemies, back to his Montana home without harming a hair on his head. Hostiles becomes a journey of survival and putting aside differences in the post civil war wild west. It’s brutally honest on a road searching for forgiveness.
The opening sequences of Hostiles revels in enough bloodshed to set the tone of the time period. It begins at the farming home of Wesley and Rosalie Quaid (Roseamund Pike) with their three children learning grammar at the dinner table. Over the horizon is a gang of Native Americans, and instead of retreating, the husband fights for his land, but there are too many of them. This leaves Rosalie on the run fighting for her life and witnessing the brutal killing of her entire family. Her life has been forever altered, so when she comes across the traveling group, she too must learn to find redemption amongst a group of people that are against one another.
A majority of this is prime Scott Cooper. The director of films such as Black Mass and Into the Furnace traditionally focuses on a dark and cruel world. This is also the second time he has worked with Bale, whose Captain Joseph Blocker is the most complex character of the bunch, not a far stretch for the always fantastic Bale. He is a man who’s spent his entire life killing people, protecting his own, or destroying the lives of others, as he became a judge and jury on his own. His hatred for others has ruined his life, creating an ugly and grizzled man. When he is asked by his superior Col. Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang) to handle the task, his defiance is loud, till he gives into the honor he swore to uphold. This leads to his emotional awakening to who he is a murderous general, to his realization of past barbaric actions, which is reminiscent of Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves, and a powerful arc.
What rounds out making Hostiles a successful western are the beautiful, in grand scale, shots of plains and cloudless skies by Masanobu Takayanagi. The long trek by these men and women certainly becomes arduous, I would recommend Hostiles to most, but your patience for a film that marinates in pain, must be a film one is prepared for. The supporting cast of characters, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Ben Foster, and Rory Cochrane round out the team, as they protect the Native Americans from those who pass by, attempting to knock the group off their goal with guns and arrows.
Hostiles is ultimately, an emotional crawl through the muddy and bloody trails left after the Americans removal of the Native American people. The film’s emotional ending will leave audiences marinating over what the bloodshed all means. This all brings me back to those comparisons to Unforgiven. Eastwood made a great movie, no doubt, but a film as good as Hostiles, hopefully reminds audiences of the power of the western genre. Scott Cooper is a director I respect and he wants to remind you of great westerns of the past from John Ford or Sergio Leone. His result may be a Hostile one, but it’s the kind of cinema that shakes you with a purpose.
Written by: Leo Brady