Hostiles is a period western film written and directed by Scott Cooper and stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Jonathan Majors, Adam Beach, and Q'orianka Kilcher.
The Story/The Direction:
The film follows a Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Bale) and his men who escort a Cheyenne war chief, Yellow Hawk (Studi), and his family back to their home in Montana in 1892. Blocker's wartime efforts have made him hate Native Americans as a whole due to them killing off many of his friends in battle some even by Yellow Hawk himself. Along their journey, they come across Rosalie Quaid (Pike) whose family including her two daughters and infant have been gunned down by the Comanche. Both of them have reasons to hate but over the course of the film, they find redemption.
Violence is everywhere and Cooper does not hold back at all. This film takes place at the climax of the Indian Wars and the people of the country are realizing the errors of their treatment of the Native Americans. There is a lot of pain, guilt, and anger in this western from writer-director Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, and Black Mass) that draws parallels to violent and racial issues that still divide America today over a hundred years later. Thanks to his direction and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, the journey that both the characters and the audience go on is a beautiful yet painful one. The landscape is stunning and supported by the powerful score by Max Richter, it even adds to the physical and emotional toll that the characters are going through. Thanks to the unhurried pace of the film, Cooper allows the majority of his characters to be fleshed out and he gets great performances from his cast.
This western is not about good and evil. It is not black or white hats or cowboys versus Native Americans. This film tells the story of how two civilizations are not that different as they think they are. Cooper shows this deliberately by showing one side kill off another then moments later show the other side beating on the former side. Blocker is a man who fought against and killed many Native Americans in battle for his country and Yellow Hawk killed many white people to defend his people. They were doing their duty and given that, the audience understands why Blocker and Yellow Hawk feel the way they do. Blocker's hatred is "justified" by his backstory as he lost many friends in battle and was once left for dead with a spear in his stomach. Bale is able to capture every emotion that Blocker is going through and he does it with his eyes as his mouth is mostly covered by an intense handlebar mustache. The audience knows that this man has gone through many years of pain and rage. He wears his hatred on his sleeve and when given the order to chaperone Yellow Hawk and his family across the country, he wages being court-martialed or suicide before doing so. As the course of the film plays out, he is shown to be more than meets the eye and not the naive one-dimensional killer that progressives at the time think he is. He reads Julius Caeser in its original Latin text and one of his friends, Thomas Metz (Cochrane), fought for the Confederates in the American Civil War. He also acknowledges that Buffalo Soldier Henry Woodson (Majors) is the best soldier he's ever known in a very touching scene. These scenes show that he is willing to forgive people who were once looked down upon by him which furthermore shows a great character arc as he attempts to change his ways.
He then sees that Rosalee Quaid played brilliantly Pike, not hate all Native Americans even after her entire family is killed in front of her. The film shows her terribly traumatized by such an event in a touching scene where she unsuccessfully attempts to dig their graves with her bare hands. She has a reason to hate them but does not which moves Blocker and she becomes his moral compass. She shows him that there is another way of dealing with hostility and that hatred does not fix it. How can Blocker keep on hating Native Americans when the ones he is escorting give gifts to Quaid after meeting her and white men like Foster's character kill Native Americans willingly and others potentially rape women, no matter their ethnicity? The supporting cast is also particularly brilliant in their roles with Cochrane and Majors being the standouts especially the latter in his first film and he is one to look out for in the future.
The main problem with this film is that it only focuses on one side of the issue. Only Blocker's character is able to visually go through a redemption process. Yellow Hawk apparently does it while in the jail cell that he was in prior to the film starting. The argument can be made that Yellow Hawk did not have to be redeemed as he was only defending his people and his land from attackers/settlers. However by not showing this on screen, it, unfortunately, makes the Native Americans in the film fairly one-dimensional. Cooper only shows them as people who scalp their victims or as stoic people who say very few but nice words. Furthermore, the main argument of the film is that one can stop being racist by "getting to know the other side," and the film displays very little of this. The Native Americans in this film end up only being plot devices for Blocker's character even though the Native American actors do well with the little they are given. The film also feels very long as Cooper gives lots of pauses for the actors to say their lines. As shown in the trailer, Quaid asks Blocker, "Do you believe in the Lord?" and he looks up at her and five seconds later responds with "yes." This is not the only time things like this happen and can make the film feel longer than it is but as said earlier, it adds to the authenticity of the painful journey that the characters are going through.
This film looks amazing and it is well acted by all with Bale and Pike being the stars of the film. There is a possibility that Bale could receive another Oscar nomination and similar goes for Pike. She has one of the top performances of the year in this film. The message of the film is a little discombobulated and unfortunately does not say much about the genocide that settlers did on Native Americans. This film is very violent and speaks volumes about how Americans have treated their fellow Americans in the past and present. It is a very heavy and drawn out film that will please western film fans and also those who appreciate a well-acted film. It is also worth seeing in theatres to appreciate the amazing cinematography that this great film has. “Hostiles” itself wants to be both a throwback and an advance, not so much a new kind of western as every possible kind — vintage, revisionist, elegiac, and feminist. What makes the movie interesting is the sincerity and intelligence with which it pursues that ambition, heroically unaware that the mission is doomed from the start.
Rating: 4.0/5.0 bowties
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