“Hostiles” is directed by Scott Cooper and it’s a Western starring Christian Bale as an army Captain in 1892 as he’s assigned one final mission before his retirement: escorting an ailing Native American chief and his family from New Mexico to their tribe in Montana. It’s an escort mission as this company treks across the country and has to deal with various obstacles in their path.
Me personally, I don’t have a good track record with Scott Cooper as a director. I’ve seen two of his previous films, “Black Mass” and “Out of the Furnace”, the latter being a drawn out, melodramatic bore and the former being a paint-by-numbers biopic that added nothing new to the figure that it was depicting. But I also enjoy a good Western every now and then and it’s a genre we simply don’t see much of today. That said, it looks like I’ve found that nice little combination of an enjoyable Western and a Scott Cooper movie that I actually quite liked.
Starting off with the performances, I think Christian Bale gives a very subtle and nuanced performance, though there is the emotional resonance when it’s required. He plays the Army Captain with his own personal grudge against Native Americans, though there are little moments in his performance when you can see the change in heart that occurs in him over time. Rosamund Pike is also great as an emotionally distraught widow with her own vendetta, and Wes Studi is terrific as the dying chief Yellow Hawk. There are also some appearances from actors who I didn’t even know were in the film, such as Stephen Lang, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, and Timothee Chalamet, all of whom have limited screen time, but they all make the most what what they’re given, rounding off a cast that all gives solid performances.
Surprisingly enough, I also have to give praise to an aspect of the movie that may divide some people and that would be the tone. This movie as a whole is very bleak, depressing, and there’s no escaping the harsh realities of what life was like back in America at this time. The opening scene alone is a 0-100 scene unlike anything I’ve seen in a movie and it sets the tone for the rest of the film. Danger is omnipresent in this movie and this gritty and deathly feeling constantly sticks with you. Sure, there’s a redemption story that’s meant to be seen as the one beam of light in the story, but even then there are some harsh realities behind the implications of what we just saw. Scott Cooper is no stranger to depressing films and I think he finally nailed that tone in this movie.
This being an escort mission, it does start to feel repetitive after a while. The plot itself seems to go through the motions of having the crew travel across the country as we’re shown some gorgeous cinematography, only to be thrust into some type of violent conflict. It seems to be a continuous pattern of travel, violence, travel violence and it affects the movie’s pacing, something that could’ve been fixed in a film that’s over two hours long.
Also, there are some characters in this movie that clearly existed just so they can die horrible deaths. For as much development as you get with Bale, Pike, and Studi, you also have some tertiary characters who don’t need to be in the film. They’re clearly in the movie because they need to die in order to establish danger and death, but getting rid of some of these characters and leaving us with Bale and the other leads would’ve been far more beneficial.
Overall, “Hostiles” is a good Western that has strong performances from everyone, beautiful cinematography, and a bleak tone that fits the movie as a whole as it sticks with you throughout. It has some of the escort mission flaws that you can expect in a movie like this, but I still liked the movie and I can recommend it to any Western fans.