Scott Cooper, director of Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace (which is highly underrated) and Black Mass, returns to the big-screen with Hostiles — his take on the American west and all the tragedy that it brings.
Set in 1892, Hostiles follows a collection of various characters who are journeying over some dangerous territory in the old west.
Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) is a troubled man. He’s served in the army for quite some time, and definitely has the record to prove it. Through his career, he’s had to murder men, women and children alike, and while he’s done his best to run from these actions, they’re starting to take their toll.
Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) is also a troubled man. Living as a Native American who’s constantly being hunted and pushed away by American pioneers, Yellow Hawk has also had to murder and kill in order to protect his family and ideologies.
Unlike Blocker, however, Yellow Hawk has had to pay for his crimes. He and his family have been locked inside an American prison for the past seven years, barely being treated with any basic human rights (it is the 1800s, after all). During that time, Yellow Hawk came down with a deathly illness and is now starring down his final days of life.
Which is why Chief Yellow Hawk gets to go home. In an effort to show a well-meaning relationship between the Native Americans and settlers, the President has signed an agreement that allows Yellow Hawk and his family to return to their tribal land in Montana so that they may put Yellow Hawk to rest there.
And, you guessed it, Blocker and his troops are assigned to escort Yellow Hawk on this journey. It’s a dangerous trip, after all, with other Native American groups hiding in the wilderness.
Blocker couldn’t be any more less pleased. Despite the fact that he has a general disliking towards all Native Americans, he and Yellow Hawk have a bloody history — Yellow Hawk killed a few of his men and friends firsthand. Yet, Blocker has been told he’s not allowed to harm Yellow Hawk, and that if he doesn’t complete the mission he’ll be court-ordered. He has no other choice to go through with it.
Along the way, they also run into Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) — a recently widowed woman who lost her family to a group of Native Americans and now seeks revenge.
If you’ve seen any of Scott Cooper’s previous films and are familiar with his directorial style, you know that he likes to make slower-paced movies that feature some deeply disturbed characters and dark imagery — which is exactly what Hostiles is.
The central character dynamic between Blocker and Yellow Hawk is what I found the most intriguing in Hostiles. While I wish it was ultimately explored a little bit more, especially from Yellow Hawk’s point of view, seeing the way these broken characters interact and eventually come to certain realizations was what kept me hooked.
Hostiles also treads on similar ground to other post-modern westerns that we’ve seen done before and, more importantly, we’ve seen done better. This has a lot in common with something like The Searchers or Unforgiven, just having been re-done for modern day audiences. The story does move at a pretty slow pace — one which especially starts to drag in the second half of the film — and there’s several sub-plots with supporting characters that never feel like they pay off in the most satisfying way, i.e. Ben Foster.
However, there’s plenty of things that Hostiles does well. It’s a beautiful film to look at — Cooper and cinematographer Masanobu Takayangi have an eye for capturing the American West, providing some incredible landscaping and establishing shots.
Rosamund Pike and her character arc also provides the film with some added drama. The film opens with an unforgettable scene involving Pike — one that immediately sets the tone for the film, as it’s incredibly gruesome and bleak. From there, we see Pike turn in an emotional and honest performance — one that’s full of grief and anger — that winds up turning into something really special.
Hostiles presents some interesting ideas about the American West and our idea of the hero who might have lived there. The film never goes full circle on most of the ideas, as we’re left wanting more — especially from Wes Studi and the other Native American characters. For some, this will be troubling, and for others it will be enough. Hostiles isn’t the greatest western to come out in the past decade, and I wouldn’t even call it the greatest of Cooper’s films to date, but it’s certainly not bad. No, not bad, more like…incomplete.
Watch the trailer for Hostiles here, and let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below!
Dirt, blood and more bloody dirt: 'Hostiles' review6