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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Hostiles


Hostiles review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The film opens with the D.H. Lawrence quote: “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer."  It's fair warning for what is about to unfold.  It is also important to caution that Hostiles is not an action film; it is a grim, immersive dramatic musing about man's prejudice and inhumanity to man, a contemplative film punctuated by moments of violent terror.  Scott Cooper wrote (based on a manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart) and directed Hostiles, his second collaboration with Christian Bale--the other was 2013's Out of the Furnace, another grim, immersive, and sometimes violent drama.

It is 1892, the end of Indian resistance in the West.  As the film opens, a Comanche raiding party attacks a homestead, burning it to the ground and killing the entire family, except the mother, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike).  Cut to a fort in New Mexico, where we meet Capt. Joe Blocker, (Bale) a fearsome veteran of brutal wars against the Indians who is months away from discharge.  He is ordered by the base commander (Stephen Lang) to escort longtime prisoner, Cheyenne Chief Yellowhawk (Wes Studi), to his Montana home to die.  Blocker refuses.  His hatred of Yellowhawk runs deep, and it is clear that both soldier and Cheyenne have lost friends by the hand of the other, but the story has become a political cause celebre, reaching the President, and given the choice of compliance or court-martial, Blocker agrees to one last assignment. 

Blocker and his CO assemble a small troop, including a West Point lieutenant (Jesse Plemons), a Black corporal (Jonathan Majors), a raw French recruit (Timothee Chalamet), his best friend Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane) who has seen too many battles, Yellowhawk, and the Chief's family.    The party heads out across the sunbaked desert, traveling north.  Moving into the high forests, they come across the smoldering Quaid homestead where they discover the nearly insane Rosalie.  With no choice but to take her with them, they continue on with the intention of leaving her off at Fort Collins, where she can gain safe transit back East.  Heading through Comanche country means danger every step of the way.  Even their arrival at Fort Collins gives the party no respite as they learn that the stage no longer passes through, so Rosalie asks to stay with Blocker.  Further, the base commander asks Blocker to escort a wily and dangerous condemned man named Wills (Ben Foster), to prison.  Together, the party continues north.

To go into further detail would reveal too much.  Suffice to say that the group will face further dilemmas, both mortal and moral, on a journey that tests body and soul.  Thrust together, they learn about each other, but the greatest questions are directed within.  As always, Christian Bale mines depths that take his character to another level.  His gravelly voice and hardbitten exterior belie a man of depth and sensitivity who reads Julius Caesar in Latin, speaks Native American tongues, and tears up over another's loss.  He is the central character around whom the story revolves, and we see his empathy toward Rosalie, his heartbreak as he watches his friend Metz unravel, but most telling is his evolving relationship with fellow warrior Yellowhawk.

Hostiles won't win many awards, and it doesn't provide rousing, adrenaline pumping action of, say, Tombstone.  It is moody and melancholic, reminiscent of Paul Newman's Hombre.  And like that classic film, it brings together excellent characters at the top of their game.  Rosamund Pike is called upon to run the emotional gamut from catatonic fear to rage, and she does it convincingly.  Jesse Plemons continues to develop his repertoire as an actor of many faces.  No one does unhinged like Ben Foster (though, as we mentioned in our review to Hell or High Water, he risks becoming typecast).  Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Bill Camp (as a smarmy photographer), and Stephen Lang continue to enrich every film by their presence.  Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography isn't showy, but it places the characters in a convincing late 19th-century time and place in the New Mexico and Colorado landscape.  We recommend Hostiles for fans of Westerns, Christian Bale, morally complex dramas, or any combination of these.

8.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment/Art Scale
Not an Awards player


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