Hostiles – Worth Seeing, or Should You Bale?

Hostiles Review

Runtime: 135mins | Director: Scott Cooper | Rating 4 Stars

Anyone who knows me well will be aware of my borderline obsessive love for America. “Why do you love it so much?” I hear you ask – well, the answer is, I’m not really sure. I guess it stems from the fact I have family in Boston, but American politics has always fascinated me, their culture fascinates me, but most of all, their history fascinates me. For a country that claims to be the ‘leader of the free world’, they have a past steeped in racism, brutality and violence. And this is what Scott Cooper’s Hostiles captures so perfectly.

Set in New Mexico, 1982, Captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale), a soldier notorious for his brutality toward Native Americans is tasked with escorting a dying Native American Chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his tribe’s homeland in Montana. Whilst warily and begrudgingly escorting the Chief and his family back home, they encounter Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) whose family was brutally murdered by Native Americans. Fearing for her life, she decides to stick with Blocker. Unfortunately, the trip to Montana turns out to be riddled with danger, threatening everyone in the parties’ survival. 

Hostiles starts out as it means to continue – with unapologetic violence. In the very first scene, we see Rosalie’s family butchered and scalped by a particularly vicious tribe of Native Americans – the Comanche’s. Immediately, you loathe them. Minutes later, the scene cuts to a group of American soldiers abusing and toying with a group of Native Americans – this time, the Apache. This is where Scott Cooper excels. Whilst most Westerns which portray the American Indian Wars generally pick one side to frame in a negative light, Hostiles dares to be different. In this film, both sides are as bad as each other and everything is painted in vast swathes of grey.


The sentiment of mutual responsibility for the violence is bolstered by both Christian Bale’s, Rosamund Pike’s and Wes Studi’s performances – they are all phenomenal, but none more so than Bale who I would argue gave one of the best performances of his career to date. At the beginning, Blocker is inherently distrustful of Yellow Hawk and his family and openly dehumanises them - after all, why would he sympathise with a man who has killed so many of his comrades? This is only worsened when they cross paths with Rosalie who reminds him of the brutality the Native Americans are capable of, conveniently finding ways to justify his own savagery in the past. Gradually though, both Rosalie and Blocker begin to see the similarities between themselves and Chief Yellow Hawk and his family, as well as their humanity, until the end of the film where they openly, and emotionally, call themselves friends. Whilst this may be a plotline we are all too familiar with, it doesn’t feel rehashed at all – instead, it feels genuine, believable, and frankly, very emotional. 

Whilst it cannot be denied that the acting in Hostiles is of a very high quality, so is the cinematography which is helmed by, Masanobu Takayanagi - no stranger to Scott Cooper’s films. Typical of any Western, there are indulgent, yet breath-taking shots of the beautiful Southern American landscape; gorgeous plains, orange mountains and lush forests – you name it, it’s there. Where Takayanagi raises the bar, however, is that the beauty of the scenery becomes more frequent in line with Blocker’s character development. We first encounter Blocker in a barren, desert-like plain – this is representative of his mental state – devoid of any empathy or compassion. By the end of the film, he arrives in Chief Yellow Hawk’s homeland which is heavily romanticised and filled with greenery, highlighting the friendship and respect he has come to hold for his past enemy. 

Saying that, despite finding Hostiles incredibly enjoyable, I cannot say it was perfect. Yes, the acting was superb, and yes, it is beautiful to watch, but it was also a very slow burner – in this regard, it reminded me of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s, The Revenant. At the beginning of the film when we see Rosalie Quaid’s family murdered, you assume it will be fast paced from the beginning – this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you are looking for a film packed with fighting and action, this isn’t for you. Instead, Cooper focusses on character development and the morality of the war. Once I realised this was the sort of film it was going to be, I made peace with it and consequently enjoyed it a lot more.

Whilst many were quick to call Logan the best Western of 2017 (admittedly, a genre not heavily represented that year), I would have to disagree. In my eyes, Hostiles earned that title hands down. The combination of Christian Bale and Wes Studi’s masterful performances coupled with the beautiful vistas we have come to love which are associated with Western’s makes this a film not to be missed. I’d also say it’s a strong contender for Scott Cooper’s best film, though Black Mass might have something to say about that… as I said though, if you aren’t into slow-burners, this isn’t the film for you.

To watch the trailer - click here.


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