ENTERTAINMENT STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2018)
Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Q'orianka Kilcher, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors
There are no “yee-haws” or creaky saloon doors here.
An adaptation of works by Donald E. Stewart, Hostiles broods, skulks and, well, kills it way through its two-hour-fourteen-minutes runtime. Director Scott Cooper and Christian Bale reunite for this slow-burning Western having previously worked on Out of the Furnace – an all-together different type of movie. Here, the old 'good guys vs. bad guys' routine is subverted and where a once seething rivalry existed, shaky harmony is now the order of the day.
Boy, it’s not easy going either.
In 1892, the waging violence across the lands of America is petering out. The Quaid family, however, aren’t so fortunate to be in the calmer parts of the country. After Comanche warriors slaughter her husband and three children, Rosalie (Pike) is left alone with her severe trauma to keep her company. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, legendary enforcer Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) is tasked with the mission of escorting the dying Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) back to his home in Montana – Blocker and Yellow Hawk have been sworn enemies and have much blood on their hands at the expense of each other. With a small squad comprised of Buffalo Soldier Cpl. Woodson (Majors), Private DeJardin (Chalamet), Lt. Kidders (Plemons) and Blocker’s trusted ally 1st Sgt. Metz (Cochrane), the company head off for Montana – but it’s nothing like easy. Comanche soldiers, fur hunters, shady prisoners and land owners all threaten the mission in various ways, but when the company stumble upon Rosalie, morals and beliefs begin to blur and rivalries soften with every changing landscape.
Bookended by an intense intro and tense finale, Hostiles takes the long way in reaching its destination. It’s slow and ponderous, whilst simultaneously teeming with violence and despair. Cooper hasn’t made an accessible movie aimed at thrill-seeking cinephiles, instead opting for a heavy retelling of the final throes of the ‘Indian Wars’ where antagonist and protagonists are seen slaughtering their opposing enemies before being forced to work together in solidarity. It’s serious, it’s solemn and not entirely great, but there’s just enough to warrant a positive impression.
Christian Bale’s performance seethes with gravitas and weight as his sullen, conflicted and brash Captain Blocker demands the attention of the viewer in every scene. As good during reflective scenes as he is during extreme moments, this surely ranks as one of Bale’s best performances. Rosamund Pike also delivers a superb performance, fully believable in her grief, through her role is sadly minimised more and more as the movie goes on. Alongside them, Wes Studi is solid as Yellow Hawk, however, the Native Americans in Hostiles are either portrayed as mindless savages, wise old sages or, just, scene decorations. The performances are of a high calibre, and turns from Plemons and Cochrane are also noteworthy. Timothée Chalamet has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role, too.
There’s plenty of nice cinematography, blending from rough to lush, as the harsh rocky terrains and the soothing woodlands are captured in beautiful detail by DoP Masanobu Takayanagi and the erratic score from Max Richter is suitably downbeat as it complements the scenes well.
The story itself follows a fairly predictable path, and it’s the (usually violent) deviations on the way that prevents the movie from being nothing more than a snore fest. The sharp, unflinching battle/fight scenes pull no punches in their delivery and add a real (additional) layer of realism to the movie. The intro is devilishly cruel and gripping and the finale too is a riveting stand-off leading to a quietly satisfying conclusion. The majority of what’s in-between is either plodding, exciting, meandering or, sadly, at times boring. Deep fans of Westerns will find a lot to be engaged with, I believe.
Hostiles isn’t an easy movie, nor does it have any intentions of being one. Sporadic bursts of violence and chaos are smothered by an all-too-protracted story, and whilst the messages of redemption and unity are welcome, the movie isn’t consistently engaging to make the payoffs feel completely worthy. Well-acted and lovely to look at, Hostiles is a mixed-bag when it comes to story and execution.
February 7th 2018