The life of a soldier is oft met with tragedy, both on the battlefront, and at home. But what happens when his battlefield is in his hometown? Prejudice, trauma, and an unhealthy mixture of isolation abound.
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Jonathan Majors, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster
Director: Scott Cooper
released on blu-ray Apr 24, 2018
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Audience Score 72%
The Guardian: ***
Scott Cooper is an American Director, screenwriter, producer, and sometimes actor. His list of director credits include Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass, and now Hostiles. Having been active in the industry since 1998, Cooper spent the first decade of his career in the television industry, taking small acting roles before fully realizing that writing and directing was far more rewarding.
His directorial debut, Crazy Heart is nothing short of captivating, and shows a side of country music most of us miss. Plus, Jeff Bridges is amazing in it, so obviously Cooper recognizes casting quality over quantity. Hostiles also features a smaller cast and as it takes place in the late 19th century, has an authentic western flavour, but it’s not a misguided cowboys and indians kind of flick.
Special thanks to Nick Riganas for the IMDB summary of the film –
In 1892, after nearly two decades of fighting the Cheyenne, the Apache, and the Comanche natives, the United States Cavalry Captain and war hero, Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is ordered to escort the ailing Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi)–his most despised enemy–to his ancestral home in Montana’s Valley of the Bears. Nauseated with a baleful anger, Joseph’s unwelcome final assignment in the feral American landscape is further complicated, when the widowed settler, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), is taken in by the band of soldiers, as aggressive packs of marauding Comanches who are still on the warpath, are thirsty for blood. In a territory crawling with hostiles, can the seasoned Captain do his duty one last time?
What I loved about this movie is also what I ultimately hated about it. If I might be so contrarian. I’ve always been a fan of westerns as a young boy, and I attribute a lot of that love to the relationship I have with my father and grandfather, who were both small-town farmers. It wasn’t until my dad moved to the “big city” in his late twenties, met my mom, and had me that the lifestyle cycle started to shift. Either way, they both love westerns, and I have a kinship with anything associated with it.
Hostiles is not your classic John Wayne, Yul Brenner or Lee Van Cleef story – where the heroes and villains are depicted by how long their shadows cast. There is serious consideration of the effect of colonization on indigenous peoples and no ethnic group is cast in a particularly strong light of altruism and rightness, instead each character is morally ambiguous, having both good and bad qualities, just like life should be. But lines are drawn to show both groups and the impact each has on the other. And Cooper does an excellent job of depicting the effects of war and colonization.
Now, what I hinted at about loving, is that in it’s longer run, it tells a great western story, but for that same reason, it doesn’t give characters like Yellow Hawk room to breathe. Which is incredibly frustrating to watch, because Wes Studi is such a legendary actor. Sure Christian Bale and Rosamond Pike are great, and it’s awesome to see how their characters evolve, but if a third protagonist had been given due exposure, this movie would have been phenomenal.
Pros: It challenges our conventions of history and the stories constructed to retell that history. It’s by no means flattering to any party, but as a result it simultaneously feels more raw and empathetic. While not an innovation of the form, Rosamund Pike and Christian Bale deliver great performances.
Cons: The pacing is incredibly slow, and the inclusion of additional characters in the third act feels forced, drawing away from an examination of characters, and into a broader back story for Blocker, which is unnecessary at that point. But again I ask, where is the development of Chief Yellow Hawk and his family?
Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes
Points of Interest: The film was shot in chronological order, and because it takes place mostly outdoors, the cast was exposed to the elements a lot. Production was shut down on a few occasions to account for weather. This is the second western Christian Bale has starred in – the first being 3:10 to Yuma remake.
It’s amazing to see how the life of Blocker has been shaped by living on a battlefield, and that because the American frontier is filled with tribes and peoples all trying to find their space, he never really gets to rest. Even more interesting that his final mission means escorting one of his early enemies home, and that they come to a better understanding of each other in the process, is very meaningful. I just wish I had seen more perspective from the Chief.
A couple of final thoughts from me. Whether or not you enjoy westerns, this film is a great candidate to exposure of what western films have meant for American citizens for over a century now. They are effectively a propaganda told through the eyes of the victors. What hostiles does, is try to tell the story in a more nuanced way.
Yes, it does ultimately fall short of it’s goal, both due to pacing and character development, but the parts it succeeds at are well worth the struggle.
Speaking of struggles. I wanted to share this Watch Culture video I did on one of my all-time favourite animated classics – The Last Unicorn. Heavily influenced by classical literature, this is another movie which features Jeff Bridges in a voicing acting role, is directed by the team of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. AND the band America did the soundtrack.
It’s highly underrated, in my humble opinion, but I hope this review gives you a chance to check it out or dust it off, as it were!
Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Lots more theories to come!