Written and directed by Scott Cooper and adapted from a story by Donald E. Stewart, Hostiles is a sweeping western tale about two enemies that must learn to coexist if they hope to survive their journey from New Mexico to Montana.
The year is 1892 and Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) has made a career of capturing and killing Native Americans. On the eve of his retirement, he is given an order by his commander, Col. Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang), to escort dying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their homelands in Montana. Blocker is reluctant to accept the order, as he and Yellow Hawk share a bloody history that Blocker cannot forgive. However, when threatened with a court martial and loss of his pension, he accepts the task and assembles a detail for the long journey. Along the way, the party comes across Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), a woman who has experienced unimaginable loss. Having nowhere else to go, she joins the party until they can get her somewhere safe. Together, the group makes the dangerous trek north, fending off all sorts of attackers all while wondering if they can even trust each other enough to survive.
Hostiles is a great western with a magnificent cast. The only negative I can really give it is the film’s pacing. This is a very deliberate story that takes its time. Also, the story is the journey itself, made up of smaller vignettes as opposed to having a more streamlined tale of a single antagonist following the party all the way to Montana. It definitely won’t be for everyone, but if you like westerns and great acting, you’ll enjoy this. I was also drawn to the film because of its touching portrayal of the Native American people and hammering home their plight and near extinction at the hands of a far more advanced and ruthless U.S. military. Also, Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous with amazing shots showing off the stark beauty of the landscape.
Christian Bale gives an infinitely compelling performance as a man conflicted with his past and his duty. Blocker is a far more complicated man than you would initially think and Bale captures it all deftly. Wes Studi is the picture of stoicism as Yellow Hawk, shining in all his scenes. I loved Rosamund Pike’s performance as well. She perfectly captures both the pain of loss, but also the determination to move forward. The supporting cast is equally dynamic, with fantastic performances from Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Adam Beach, and Jesse Plemons.
Overall, Hostiles is a fantastic film that completely flew under the radar at the end of last year. If you don’t mind the deliberate pace, seek it out, it’s worth it.