Hostiles a wasted opportunity
There’s much to like about Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, making it all the more frustrating that it winds up being an incomplete picture. Sporting a $40 million budget and location shooting in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, the film has a naturalistic, epic feel to it that hearkens back to the glory days of the Western. If you find yourself looking for John Wayne or Gary Cooper to ride in at any point, you’re forgiven. Unfortunately, the script by Cooper tells only part of the story that’s on the screen, making the grave error of turning the movie into yet another piece driven by white man’s guilt instead of exploring a variety of perspectives.
Christian Bale gives one of his finest performances as veteran Calvary officer Captain Blocker. Having spent his life doing the government’s bidding in wiping out one Native American group after another, his heart and soul have hardened to the point that’s he’s retreated within himself and simply wants to be left alone. However, before he can retire, he’s assigned one last duty – to escort dying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico back to their home in Montana.
He’s coerced into accepting this assignment, and with a small unit (Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons and Timothee Chalamet are among them), he must combat the elements, hostiles and his own prejudice in order to fulfill his duty. Along the way, the group takes in Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), a bereaved mother and wife whose family is brutally killed by a group of warriors in the movie’s opening sequence.
The script gives us just enough background concerning the soldiers in the group – and the performers portraying them are so good – that once they start being dispensed with one by one, it has an impact. Of particular note is a scene between Blocker and his faithful Corporal Woodsen (Jonathan Majors), each overcome with emotion, having to say goodbye after a long friendship.
Bale and Pike are excellent here, each tapping into their characters’ respective grief and anger. A sequence in which Quaid takes it upon herself to bury her slaughtered family is a devastating scene, thanks to the actress’ ability to convey the character’s devastation. Bale too has his dark night of the soul moments, contemplating the impact of his past actions as he tries to deal with his feelings of anger regarding his charge, as well as having to become allies with him.
And therein lies the problem of the film. While much time is spent regarding Blocker’s feelings as well as examining how his violent past has changed him, the same is not done for his counterpart, Yellow Hawk. Barely given an introspective moment, the character comes off as the stereotypical noble savage, a man able to maintain inner peace and seemingly not take anything personally. Far more rewarding would have been a handful of moments in which Yellow Hawk reflects upon the affect of his past deeds as well as a heart-to-heart conversation between him and Blocker. This would have resulted in a well-balanced and far more rewarding experience, a progressive entry in the genre.
Featuring a fine supporting turn from Ben Foster as a divisive deserter, in the end Hostiles is an opportunity wasted, a handsomely mounted production driven by strong performances. Blocker’s change-of-heart towards his former enemy simply doesn’t hold water, making the movie’s hoped-for poignant ending seem hollow and false.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com