STARS: Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike
DIRECTOR: Scott Cooper
I like a good western now and then. Part of it, I think, is because back then men looked like men. They had facial hair! (And they weren't waxing their chests.) So I was looking forward to seeing Hostiles because not so many of these manly pictures come around anymore. And from some of the buzz about it, I thought there might be a message in there.
And indeed there is one in the opening two sequences. Some white settlers are slaughtered by Comanches. After that, some Indians are brutally murdered by the paleface. Graphic stuff, and a pretty clear message that war is futile. Nobody's right if everybody's wrong. In retrospect, of course, we know who was right and who was wrong, if defending your homeland against alien invaders is what any noble people would do.
It's 1892, and U.S. army captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) has been charged to lead a mercy mission of escorting a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico back to their native lands in Montana. That's a long ride on horseback. Blocker balks at first. He's seen too much killing, and he hates those "savages" with every fiber of his being. He reluctantly gives in (after being threatened with court martial) and the party sets out. Along the way they'll be attacked by marauding Comanches and nefarious types of his own race. Blocker is quickly faced with the reality that if his little band of soldiers and Indians are to survive, they must all stick together. He must dig down and find the humanity in himself, so he can recognize it in others.
Christian Bale's Joe Blocker is one of the best fleshed out characters I've seen in some time. We see his internal struggle all the way through. Can't say as much for the rest of the cast, as there are some uneven acting performances--some pretty good, some not so hot. But what really bugged me throughout the film was that many of the characters--especially the Indians in the traveling party--didn't look authentic. Their faces (other than the old chief) weren't weathered enough. Their skin is baby smooth, lacking the character lines that a hard life of subsistence upon the prairie would bring. They look more like...well...like Hollywood actors!
If little "details" like this don't bother you, and you're willing to trade believability for edge-of-your-seat action and suspense, you'll enjoy Hostiles. As I heard a guy who was heading for the exit after the movie say: Whole bunch of Indians gettin' shot and killed...and white people too!
That pretty well sums it up.
Grade: C +
(Ha, ha.) That guy in the audience pretty well summed up Hostiles. I do, however, want to add a codicil to Captain Blocker being threatened with a court martial if he didn't escort those "savages" to Montana. For me, the game changer was when his superior threatened him with the loss of his pension. Something any modern day racist can readily identify with... ("Money talks, bullshit walks.")
This was a long movie. It had to be in order to make the attitudinal changes believeable. But as this was oh-so-slowly happening, I got to wondering how the average western loving movie goer would react to such psychological meanderings.
The scenery was gorgeous. Those aerial shots made me aware, as every western does, of just how vast this country is. (Or was.) And if I knew how to say 'great job' in Cheyenne, I'd certainly tell Oklahoma native Wes Studi he was terrific. The final words he shared with homesteader Rosalie Quaid (ably played by yet another Brit, Rosamund Pike) really moved me. But they also made me think about how today's Native Americans would react to this retributive film. Forgiveness—like the proverbial rattlesnake—is a slippery creature....
For me, the slowness of this tale got in the way of the story.