Hostiles – Motion Picture Maniac
You know a film means business when it has an opening scene like that of Hostiles, we’re used to westerns somewhat sugar-coating the historical relationship between “Cowboys & Indians” and how truly volatile it really was (the reason movies like Soldier Blue cause such a stir upon release). But Hostiles lets you know, right from the get go, just how it plans to tackle its subject matter; with grit, blood and teeth.
The latest from the rather underappreciated Scott Cooper, Hostiles tells the tale of a white army Captain played by Christian Bale, a seasoned “Indian fighter”, who is ordered against his will to transport his sworn enemy, a terminally ill native Chief played by Wes Studi, across the country to his homeland so he can die peacefully. As you can imagine, this tour across the old West is going to be anything but smooth, it’s bad enough suffering the routine attacks from lawless bandits and rival tribesman but Bale’s character is also an angry racist, ready the moment his fort and, more importantly, his superiors are out of sight to challenge his escort to a knife fight – good to know his priorities are in order.
We learn these men have prior history, all of it bloody and ugly, the Chief has moved on from such times, not a glint of hatred remains in his stare even as Bale roars for a brawl, Bale’s Captain seems forever soured by his experiences, even walking out into the wilderness to scream and cry when it’s clear he’ll be heading the transport whether he wants to or not. That’s what I found interesting about the story, you can predict the arc of its main character easily enough but I find it quite refreshing to see a protagonist whom is not necessarily a good person played by an actor known for heroic roles; he’s on the wrong side of history, we, the audience, know this to be the case and cannot wait for him to realise for himself.
I haven’t seen a Scott Cooper movie I haven’t liked, I think Out Of The Furnace is terribly underrated and I really don’t get the small number of complaints against Black Mass. They look beautiful, take risks and are always sure handed in their execution – Hostiles is no different. The cinematography is just splendid, as a western it had a responsibility to look nice and thankfully it succeeded, the performances are all top notch, Bale plays anger very well (I wonder why), Rosamund Pike has a lot to work with on the emotional front and pulls it all off seamlessly, the violence is brutal and unforgiving and its themes have nothing but relevance in this socially disappointing modern day.
On the side I also want to give mention to the musical score, guys this music was something else, when the end credits started playing – the music just fused me to my seat. It was very sad, haunting and for Christ sake, for music to keep me hooked even as the credits are rolling? You know it’s done something right when that happens, the only other film I can think of that recently did the same thing was Blade Runner 2049. Also worth a mention is the film’s handling of blame, both natives and whites committed atrocities during such a time in history and the film refuses to vilify one while praising another, there are two opening sequences, one of natives being violent and cruel, the other of whites being violent and cruel; a very grey ocean of blood that’s very well handled.
All that being said I would not call this a great film, it has great things in it and I do like it but this is definitely his weakest film, the second-to-last scene would have worked perfectly as an ending, but the film then continues with one extra scene and I don’t think it worked as well, everything it has to say was already heavily implied in the scene that precedes it and it just feels unnecessary. I’m also sorry to report that aside from the main players and one of Bale’s soldiers, everyone else is pretty noticeably underdeveloped, it doesn’t tank the film but it stings a little when you can see the opportunities being missed.
I think the best way to put it is like so – if you love all westerns, you’ll probably love Hostiles, if you like the cast, the director and find good cinematography irresistible then yeah, feel free to go right ahead. But if you don’t like slow burns then you should probably stay away, it’s a very particular kind of film I can see not a lot of people liking, I enjoyed it but I want to be careful and I shouldn’t just go by what I think, but if what I think is why you’re here then yes, Hostiles is well acted, well shot, has interesting themes and works well as a western adventure that’s worth watching, even if not everyone is developed as well as they could be and it goes on a bit too long.
Some slightly mixed thoughts but definitely lean on positive overall.