Hostiles review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Scott Cooper’s Hostiles takes a more contemplative and deeper path down its familiar trail of old west tales. It could’ve been another standard action picture given the grim opening of Comanches brutally slaughtering an entire family with one left alive. A lesser picture would’ve turned the movie into a revenge piece, where this incident is used as an excuse for the surviving mother or some hired gun to go on a bloody revenge run of bloodily slaughtering Native Americans. But the world isn’t that simple and Hostiles thankfully let its story mosey at an easy rate to better understand the nature of violence in a time when it was so very common.
The mother who has lost her family Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike). Her first thoughts after the slaughter that took away her husband and three daughters are not of revenge but a painful psychosis for the world that doesn’t seem to make sense. She is discovered later at her burnt down home by Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), also struggling to understand the lines that seem to blur. He’s been down the bloodier road, having been a veteran of the Indian Wars where he slaughtered many. His last mission before retirement is given by the Colonel as that of an escort for Cheyenne war chief Yellow Haw. Blocker is reluctant as the last thing he wants to do is serve on the side of the Indians he killed, but maybe this understanding will clear some of the blood from his past and make him see a little something more on his final orders.
With wise and selective words, Hostiles carefully weaves the tapestry of its characters shifting among the cruel Western plains. Pike’s performance is the most powerful for how much fear and depression she embodies. It takes her more than a few hours of silent reflection to get over the death of her family, refusing to accept her baby is dead until she painfully digs a grave with her bare hands as tears stream. Her fears are also going to take a while to get over with how she views Indians, initially sent into a nightmarish shock when she spots the first few she meets after the attacks. These are bitter wounds and it’s interesting to watch how they take a hefty amount of time to heal. Bale’s performance is an understated and understanding one, looking on with gentle listening for having seen that same look of nihilism etched on the face of Rosalee. He could probably spin a few tales of the horrors he saw on the battlefield and yet he doesn’t. His face tells all and a veteran this weary probably wouldn’t delight in sharing such grizzly events.
The journey is met with dangers that never feel overblown as theatrics. They run into Comanches that ambush them but it’s a fight more gritty than thrilling. The climactic showdown is a shootout but not the kind where two men race to their pistols, favoring one where whoever can edge the closest over their cover gets the best shot. The Native Americans are not merely pitched as spiritual ciphers built to impart wisdom on the broken white man but exist as humans just as worn from the war as Blocker. For these surprisingly subtle and true personalities, the film has been praised by the National Congress of American Indians for authentic use of representation and language of the culture.
Cooper’s film is one that could be argued with how effective it is in the characters with their hunt for humanity amid genocide that doesn’t seem to be a heavier focus, but it’s hard to deny the film’s beauty in the setting and performances. If anything, it’s pleasing to have a film with enough patience to let the silence sink in of the weight from the war. Sometimes it comes through almost as well as the somber beauty of the mountains and fields for people who believe they’re in their twilight years.