500 Days Of Film Reviews Hostiles Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike And Wes Studi
In 1892, Army Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to their tribal lands. On the journey, they meet a widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family has been murdered on the plains and offer their help. As the former rivals make their way from an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico to the grasslands of Montana, their relationship changes in seemingly impossible ways.
Is It Any Good?
Hostiles begins by quoting D.H. Lawrence: “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted.” A more apt description of Captain Joseph Blocker (and the environment in which he lives) you’d be hard pressed to find - at least based on initial impressions.
Of course, many films in the Western genre explore these themes of hardship, isolation, stoicism and murder. Scott Cooper’s epic film, however, considers whether they can be "melted".
At first, this seems unlikely. The characters in Hostiles have all experienced loss on a devastating and horrific scale. As the film’s extremely distressing opening minutes show, they live in a brutal and unforgiving land. Yet, even in the depths of shock and grief, compassion somehow remains.
While danger and violence lurk around every corner in Hostiles, much of the film’s conflict takes place within the heart and soul of Captain Blocker. After years of killing or capturing (and imprisoning) Native Americans, he is tasked to escort Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk, back to his tribal lands.
This mission goes against all he has worked for - all he has suffered for. Respecting and accepting Yellow Hawk seems to him an abomination - a blight on the memory of the friends who have lost their lives.
Hostiles then explores what happens when your sworn enemies (who you dismiss as “ants”) become people that you have to live with, fight alongside and protect. What happens when you can no longer distinguish between those who are good and those who are evil?
Christian Bale gives an astonishing performance in Hostiles. He conveys so much even while saying very little. All we need to know - the rage, desperation and grief - is there on his face, in the lingering pauses between the action. It is hard to imagine another actor bringing more to the role
As a result, while Hostiles looks for all the world like a (visually stunning) old fashioned Western, Cooper’s film also feels fresh - exploring the territory of a remarkable moment in history - a time that feels surprisingly relevant today.
Hostiles is not a short film. However, while we are never in doubt of the movie's epic scale and scope, the two hours and 14 minutes fly by - from the very first scenes, we are gripped by this story.
The addition of Rosamund Pike’s Rosalee Quaid is key. Indeed, we meet her character before we are introduced to Blocker or Yellow Hawk. She then becomes a symbol of the brutal loss suffered on both sides - her overwhelming grief is universally understood, uniting those who believed they were without common ground.
Pike is superb in this haunting role. Her performance is more than a match for Bale’s - both in terms of intensity and power. Rosalee’s pain and distress are palpable - her suffering often hard to watch.
Bale and Pike are joined by an extremely impressive supporting cast. Wes Studi is wonderful in the role of Chief Yellow Hawk - exuding a sense of quiet power and strength - even as his health fails.
Meanwhile, Hostiles also features notable performances from Ben Foster, Timothee Chalamet, Jesse Plemons, Q’orianka Kilcher, Rory Cochrane, Peter Mullan and Adam Beach. Quite frankly the entire cast is a joy to watch.
This may well be cliche, but the setting of Hostiles is an important character in itself. Cinematographer, Masanobu Takayanagi, offers us stunning vista after stunning vista. The light is incredible.
As a result, Hostiles is a truly gorgeous film to look at - full of breathtaking and beautifully cinematic scenes. For all the displays of brutality, rage and retribution that take place on this canvas, at its heart, Hostiles is a moving study of grief, acceptance and compassion.
Scott Cooper’s film deserved more attention than it received after its theatrical release. Thankfully, there is plenty of time to put that right.
Have you seen Hostiles?
If you have, what did you think of Scott Cooper’s film? Let me know in the comments section below or find me on Twitter @500DaysOfFilm.