Rob Reviews "Hostiles"
Working off of the critical success of films like “Crazy Heart” and “Black Mass,” writer/director Scott Cooper has adapted a manuscript by Donald E. Stuart (who did the first three Tom Clancy books brought to the big screen) and enlisted names like Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Rory Cochran, and Wes Studi to join him to tell the tale of “Hostiles”. Bale plays a military soldier named Capt. Joseph J. Blocker in 1892 America, who is close to retirement and is asked by his boss to undertake one last mission to escort a dying Cheyenne chief named Yellow Hawk (Studi) and his family to his homeland in Montana to finish his life there. In a culture where tensions between the white man and the Native Americans are high along with a widow who is dealing with issues of her own (Pike) and Blocker’s own hatred towards not only Yellow Hawk’s countrymen but even the chief himself, this trek must survive the elements, societal norms, and even the personnel themselves.
Gorgeously shot by Masanobu Takayanagi and shot in sequential order, “Hostiles” is a western for a modern era that gives a contemporary audience a reminder of what classic filmmaking looks like. This cast is strong, complimented with appearances by Stephen Lang, Bill Camp, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, and Ben Foster. Nobody really gets out of their lane here, understanding that although the vehicle is being driven by Bale, it still on a certain level is an ensemble piece.
At about two hours and fifteen minutes, this is a hard watch mainly because it is so beautifully done. The opening sequence alone (which establishes Pike’s characters and her motivations) is nothing short of heart wrenching, and there are a few moments of graphic violence. There is not a whole heck of gore here, but there are a couple of moments that made me reel back a bit. Let it be known that this is not one of those “violence because we can” kind of films: the violence that IS there is necessary to the story, its pacing, and the arc of its characters.
With all of this, there are still a couple of criticisms here of “Hostiles”. The first has to do with the ending of the film, which is for lack of a better term… awkward. Staying as spoiler-free as I try to do when writing my reviews, there seems to be a falling apart of the chemistry between the characters in the last few minutes that builds up for the rest of the film. Perhaps they were just tired from the production, or maybe it has to do with the fact that Pike has said in interviews that she and Bale barely spoke outside of their scenes together in order to keep within the characters’ dynamic, or even the possibility that Stewart’s manuscript just ran out of steam. Either way, I had that “OK, so there’s THAT” feeling as the end credits began to roll.
The other thing for me here is a strange dichotomy. As I stated earlier, this is a longer than average film, and I feel that it could be shorter. However, I am not sure where I would trim things back to keep the emotions and story that “Hostiles” creates. Granted, there are some “they’re riding horses on the trail” scenes that ran a bit longer than I would have liked them to, but there were not enough of them to make any difference in the runtime. I did find myself getting restless in a few sections, but never really got taken out of what was going on with the film itself. Perhaps on another viewing I can find where they could remove some things without sacrificing the story itself; I’m just not there at this point.
With “Hostiles” starting off my 2018 pretty strongly, I truly recommend this film for people who, like me, feel that the western is becoming a lost art that needs to be alive for future generations to enjoy and give a hunger to watch some of the classics that really do still hold up for the most part. Also, check this out as a film in general, not just in genre.