Monday, 14 May 2018

Review #1,335: 'Hostiles' (2017)

The tone is set very early on in Crazy Heart and Black Mass director Scott Cooper's latest slice of Americana, as a white family is set upon by a gang of blood-thirsty Comanches on horseback. The natives slaughter them all, including a young baby, all except for mother Rosalee (Rosamund Pike), who flees terrified into the wilderness soaked in blood and still clutching her dead child. It's a starling opening which is difficult to watch, and seems to set up an old-fashioned tale of good vs. bad with a modern twist. Only it isn't. As you can probably gather from the title, Hostiles is about the cycle of violence, fear and hatred on both sides of the coin, with the whites looking to settle in their newly colonised and unexplored land, while the natives seek to hold on to what they have by any means necessary. There's brutality on both sides, only the natives were there first.

Christian Bale plays Captain Joseph J. Blocker, a veteran officer known for the indifference with which he carries out his tasks, which mainly include rounding up nearby Apaches using a variety of questionable methods. In any other movie, Blocker may serve as the bad guy, but there's a discipline in his actions and a weariness in how he acts on his instincts. He and his close friend Master Sergeant Metz (an excellent Rory Cochrane) have taken about as much as they can take, and bear the scars of a life spent soaked in blood. Blocker is called to the office of Colonel Biggs (Stephen Lang) to receive his latest mission: to transport the dying war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to their home lands in Montana, as part of a political move under the instructions of the President. Under the threat of a court-martial, he agrees, and sets out on a long and perilous quest to help a man he still views as the enemy.

There is a lot to admire about Hostiles, especially the gorgeous cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi, whose camera captures this vast and beautiful land as a sort of endless, mystical purgatory. The performances are stellar, with Bale and Pike leading a talented ensemble that also includes Jesse Plemons, Bill Camp, Q'orianka Kilcher, Adam Beach, Timothee Chalamet, Peter Mullan and Ben Foster. Yet there's a familiarity to the film's themes. The revisionist western movement has constantly depicted these times as cruel, representing the country's lowest moments, and it's no different here. The idea is that everyone can be hostile and capable of unspeakable acts when faced with mortal danger, something explored more profoundly in Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian. The poster may lead you to believe that the film is built around Blocker and Yellow Hawk's relationship, but Studi isn't given very much screen time, with the action focused more on the blossoming relationship between the grizzled Captain and the tragedy-stricken woman he stumbles upon and feels sworn to protect. Hostiles is interesting and occasionally riveting, but deeply flawed and lacking focus.

Directed by: Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Q'orianka Kilcher, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang
Country: USA

Rating: ***

Tom Gillespie

Hostiles (2017) on IMDb

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