‘Hostiles’ has been compared more than a few times to the Clint Eastwood 1990’s classic ‘Unforgiven’. It’s not exactly an unfair comparison. John Wayne westerns was for many decades the landmark for how the West was won. Cowboys were good. Indians were bad. Well it turns out ‘Hostiles’ spares no side from the harsh reality of human morality gone awry.
Christian Bale stars as U.S. Cavalry Captain Joseph Blocker, a soldier ready for retirement. It is inferred that he has seen many Indian battles during his service out West. Killing the ‘Hostiles’ was a job he relished.
Capt. Blocker’s last mission is to escort a dying Cheyenne warrior (Wes Studi) to his Montana home. It seems the Chief has “the cancer”. Blocker rages against the assignment as Yellow Hawk was a brutal killer of white men. However, it is a duty he must carry out.
Along the way Capt. Blocker meets Rosalee (Rosamund Pike), a widow struggling to survive after an attack by Comanches slaughters her pioneer family. Obviously she no choice but to join the Captain on his adventure north.
‘Hostiles’ is a western made in a hyper politically correct world. I however, was impressed that the production cast as much aspersions on the Native Americans as well as the American soldiers. They made sure to let it be known that atrocities were committed on both sides.
I came away realizing that for some tribes, for some Native Americans, the American expansion was not just about the land they were losing. No, they found fresh victims to rob and kill. The Cheyennes portrayed in the movie had little love for the Comanches.
Block and his soldiers wrestle with their humanity on this last mission, especially Master Sgt. Thomas Metz (brilliantly played by Rory Cochrane). The horrors they have lived through are those that they now wish to forget.
‘Hostiles’ is violent, heartbreaking, horrifying, spiritual and kind. It is also morally complicated. Blocker was a confederate soldier. His best friend Metz fought with the Union. Blocker’s self described best soldier was Henry Woodson (Jonathan Majors), a former Buffalo soldier. Little by little he reformed his bigotry. The question that we all know the answer to is yes; can he finally overcome his hatred for the natives?
Christian Bale was incredible in this movie. He gave a stoic, quiet performance that is one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time. The director gave him room to work the camera in silence and boy does it deliver. Rosamund Pike was also terrific giving a strong performance of a woman that has so much deal with.
The scenery was magnificent. It was a beautiful film to watch. Though I am glad they didn’t let the camera work across the desert Monuments like so many other westerns do. We get it. It’s stark yet beautiful. There were plenty, and I mean plenty, of character closeups that were far more interesting.
I was also heartened at the respect of Christian faith ‘Hostiles’ showed. A couple of scenes Block and Rosalee spent time searching for answers from God.
I feel ‘Hostiles’ will remain with me for a time. I enjoy character studies of man finding his humanity.I also appreciate the honesty the production tried to carve out of this story. No tribe was let off from the horrors of wars past.
It is a brutal but rather moving movie. But I found it to be a credible take on the history of the west along with being a satisfying western genre film.
I give ‘Hostiles’ a robust B+. It’s one of my favorite westerns.