Hostiles plays out like a classic Western with modern sensibilities. It’s engaging, beautifully shot and features captivating performances.
Cooper doesn’t romanticize this time period as some iconic moment in American history. It was a harsh time that brought out the good, bad, ugly and deplorable in people. Cooper presents a more balanced account to show the savagery of American soldiers and the cruelty of the American Indian.
Col. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale, American Hustle) is closing in on retirement. But to claim that long-awaited pension, he gets one final major assignment — escorting former prisoner Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family to their homeland. Blocker isn’t pleased with the task as he easily rattles off the names of his friends and fellow soldiers who Yellow Hawk killed.
Reluctantly, Blocker assembles a team to accompany him, including his longtime friend Sgt. Metz (Rory Cochrane), Buffalo Soldier Corp. Henry Woodsen (Jonathan Majors) and West Point graduate Rudy Kidder (Jesse Plemons).
Along the way, Blocker’s crew meets Rosaline (Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl), who lost her family in a massacre and must find a way to keep living.
Moving on is a major theme for Hostiles as Blocker and Yellow Hawk start as reluctant traveling companions who find common ground and eventually an understanding of the other. This doesn’t feel overly manipulated and forced as Bale and Studi masterfully convey the tearing down of resentment giving way to respect.
Bale adds another impressive performance to his already lengthy resume. Reuniting with his Out of the Furnace director, Bale once again blurs the lines of portraying and becoming a character. Bale makes Blocker’s exhaustion from a seemingly endless conflict and watching too many friends die on the battlefield seem genuine. He doesn’t need big, showy moments with an Oscar-bait sound bite to make Blocker feel real. It’s in the weariness in the body language and contemplative expressions. It’s that lack of a highlight clip scene that will cost Bale a nomination, but this was among the strongest performances of the year.
The rest of the cast is just as strong. Pike really stands out as she has arguably the most important character arc of the film. This was a great showcase for the former Best Actress nominee. Ben Foster has a memorable cameo and Adam Beach is strong in his supporting role as Yellow Hawk’s son. Hostiles easily features one of the best ensembles of 2017.
Cooper doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality of this era and how suddenly life can be lost with the pull of a trigger or flicker of an arrow. My biggest gripe with the film was how Cooper handled the action sequences. Not the execution of the shoot-outs and sense of chaos, but character logic in the sense that in too many cases they positioned themselves to get shot and killed.
The film also looks gorgeous thanks to the exquisite work of cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who in keeping with the overall tone, eschews obvious grandiose scenes to simply showcase the natural beauty along the way. Max Richter’s score adds a greater sense of importance to the film.
Hostiles is an assured, confident film that will appeal to Western fans looking for rich character development over endless shootouts.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Lorey Sebastian/Yellow Hawk, Inc.