Hostiles (2017) is a slow-burn western directed by Scott Cooper (Black Mass and Crazy Heart) which uses Christian Bale excellently in the lead role as Capt. Joseph J. Blocker. In 1892, Blocker is tasked with escorting a Cheyenne chief back to his people’s land so that he may die in peace. Blocker has a history with Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and is not at all happy about having to ensure his safety along the treacherous journey.
Hostiles is a great showcase for Bale
The film plays out a bit like a video game as Blocker fills out the unit with other soldiers: Master Sgt. Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane), Corp. Henry Woodsen (Jonathan Majors), Lt. Rudy Kidder (Jesse Plemons), and Pvt. Philippe DeJardin (Timothée Chalamet) – plus the chief’s family – Black Hawk (Adam Beach), Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief), Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher), and Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty). This party heads out on a trail they know will hold many challenges, and that’s not even getting into the tension coming from Blocker. It’s not long on their journey before they discover a house in the middle of a field, where the audience began this film, to find it burned down with a sole survivor remaining inside.
Early in the film, we witness Rosalie Quaid’s (Rosamund Pike) family being attacked and systematically hunted down by Native Americans wielding guns and bows. One of the more brutal moments in the films comes early as Wesley Quaid (Scott Shepherd) is scalped. The three children are all killed, and only Rosalie manages to find a hiding spot before her hunters give up. Blocker’s discovery of Rosalie in the charred remains of her house is one of the most painfully crushing scenes in a film this year. Rosalie, who is dealing with the events and guilt of being the sole survivor, joins the already tense escort group – then the journey truly begins.
Cooper deals with some very interesting themes in this film, all fairly dark and sad. Blocker and Yellow Hawk have both done some extremely heinous things in the past, but both believed what they were doing was necessary. However, both seem to look at each other as villains, despite their similarities. Tom (Rory Cochrane), a grizzled soldier who has become lost and numb after serving for twenty years, plays the role of friend to Blocker, which is vital to the tone being conveyed by the director. The film effectively puts you into the mind of Blocker as he deals with the tough situation after tough situation. After Lt. Rudy Kidder makes his first kill and looks to Tom for solace in the act, Tom notes that it gets easier. Kidder responds with “that’s what I’m afraid of…”, but it’s Tom’s revelation that “losing soldiers never do” hit the idea home.
There is a lot to appreciate in this slow-moving adventure film. While it’s not perfect and does feel a little long at times, it features some excellent performances and the beautiful sweeping long shots one expects from a Western. Definitely, a film worth seeing on the big screen, Hostiles earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.