Hostiles is an incredibly brutal western, and certainly one of the more compelling films that tracks the cycle of violence in the American frontier. Director Scott Cooper paints a intersting portrait of mankind’s nature of hatred, and while he points to the internal nature that everyone possesses, he also makes sure to highlight the unjust treatment of the indigenous people. It’s a film wrestling with a lot of ideas, and while it does get heavy handed at some points, the music and cinematography give the film the feel of an epic and elevate the material to a more beautiful and hypnotic level.
Set in 1892, the film follows legendary Union Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), who’s dispatched to return the Cheyenne War Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his sacred burial ground after seven years imprisonment. Blocker has spent years in conflict with indigenous forces, and is filled with a hatred for Yellow Hawk and his people. Yet, as Blocker’s company embark on their trip and face hostile forces of all kind, Blocker faces his internal hatred, and the hatred the fuels never-ending conflict across the nation.
Bale is remarkable here, giving a performance that suggests so much about about his history without ever spelling it out specifically, and gets to showcase a depth to his character, from a stern conflict with a local law official to a tearful goodbye to a fellow soldier. It’s evident from scene one that the film is intended to shock the viewer, yet the shock is in purpose of both realism and thematic importance. Despite some long stretches in which nothing of importance happens, Hostiles is a well executed western, and ends on a remarkably emotional note that elevates much of the two hours that preceded it. Grade: B+