Christian Bale’s last western was 3:10 to Yuma and with how good that was I was excited to see what would happen with his newest film in the genre. As usual I went into this film completely blind and for good reason because the trailer details a little too much of the story for my liking.
Synopsis: In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory. (IMDB)
Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi
Writer: Scott Cooper
Director: Scott Cooper
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (USA)
Running Time: 134mins
For showtimes and more, check out Hostiles on movietimes.com.
The best way to describe this film is tense. It’s the feeling that surrounds the audience from the opening scene until the credits roll thanks to its filmmaker Scott Cooper. Each of his previous films were filled with a tense, dramatic atmosphere and Hostiles is no different. The main focus of this film is the issues of the American West specifically the displacement of Native Americans and the ongoing hostility between the various tribes and America.
Right off the bat, the performances in this film help in raising the film beyond its story. Christian Bale leads this film as a memorable and troubled ex-Army Captain Joseph J. Blocker who bears the weight of the world and his past decisions on his shoulders. Studi plays his antagonist Chief Yellow Hawk and yet at the same time feels like a protagonist in his own right as the interaction between these two characters creates a unique relationship. However, the most invigorating performance is that of Pike who is absolutely riveting as a grief-stricken widow Rosalie Quaid. Her character alone makes the film as she goes through the biggest and most emotional transformation.
This film is absolutely beautiful. The vast landscapes, colour palette and cinematography are some of the best I’ve seen this past year in helping create the dreary, harsh world of this story. Speaking of the story, the two most prominent aspects of it are its themes and its depiction of Native Americans. The film tackles the themes of mortality and morality in the sense of if killing takes its toll on the human soul and these scenes sprinkled throughout the story are some of the standout moments as they help in building truly flawed, relatable characters.
Meanwhile, the depiction of Native Americans is surprisingly good in this film. With a title like Hostiles, you’d expect the film to potentially typecast natives as de facto hostiles with the Americans as the “good guys,” but in this film it gives much needed depth to this simple word. While some Native Americans in the film (the Comanche) are seen as violent, others (the Apaches) are more peaceful, even being scared of the other more war-hungry tribes. While the Americans see the natives as hostiles, the same can be said vice-versa as the Apache characters see the Americans as hostiles invading and uprooting their lives. This dichotomy of their views of one another is explored beautifully throughout this film as both come to a mutual understanding in a way that is rarely depicted in westerns. That’s what sticks with me most about this film: its detailed and unbiased depiction of two sides and their own views of one another as they are forced to live and work together in a hostile environment.
However, the film feels a bit uneven in its pacing at points, sometimes going from fast-paced beats to a slower, dragging narrative. While a slow narrative helps in building tension to a fast-paced finale, the use of other fast-paced scenes throughout felt a bit misplaced, especially when it invaded on the theme-building character scenes.
Overall, Hostiles is a tense dramatic western that tackles the genre in a slightly different light. Its phenomenal performances, great writing, poignant themes and beautiful visuals help in creating a film that shows the gruesome horrors of this violent time proving that we are all hostiles in the end. Regardless, this film is a memorable, thought-provoking story that elevates the importance of the native perspective in westerns.
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