Directed by Scott Cooper, Hostiles is a brutal western about racism and redemption that can be at times compelling, and at other times, slow and draggy. Taking place in 1892, the film opens with an intense, brutal and attention-grabbing scene. Rosalie Quaid, played superbly by Rosamund Pike, loses her husband, two daughters, and her infant child. Her family is ambushed by a group of Native Americans who burn down their home. The scene punches you square in the face and reminds you of what kind of film you’re watching. The opening is cruel and disturbing and follows this tone throughout the film, thus making it one of the most brutally violent and emotional westerns in recent years.
A bit further south at Fort Berringer, New Mexico, we meet Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), who is given the task of escorting an imprisoned Cheyenne Chief along with his family back home to Montana. Beyond reluctant to do so with his apparent distaste for Native Americans, he has no other choice. The other soldiers who accompany the captain are played by Jesse Plemons, Johnathan Majors, Rory Cochrane, and Timothee Chalamet (who seems to be in many of the big Oscar films this year, at just the beginning of his career). Along their journey, they run into Rosalie, mourning the death of her family. She joins their expedition and both herself and Captain Blocker learn the meaning of humanity, forgiveness and redemption.
The performances are on par, with Rosamund Pike stealing the show. Most commonly known for her riveting performance in Gone Girl, she now plays a mourning widow and does so fantastically. Her performance is heartbreaking and breathtaking, making her performance the best thing about the film. It was an Oscar worthy performance, but there were so many fantastic supporting female roles this year, it would be too difficult to give the nominations to all who deserved it. Christian Bale also rises to the occasion as Captain Blocker, and his performance is heartbreaking as well. His character is at the center of the story, but in no way is the most captivating part of the film.
The film is well made and emotive, but there are multiple scenes that are either too over dramatized or too sluggish. When there is action, the film is intense and you’ll find yourself holding your breath until you find out who makes it out alive. But in terms of character development, the film tries its best, but ultimately the characters are the major downfall of Hostiles. The most interesting character is perhaps Captain Blocker because he is given multiple layers and has an overall character arc. The film’s evident plot hole is that it doesn’t give us enough to chew on for the surrounding characters, especially Black Hawk (Adam Beach), the imprisoned Cheyenne Chief. All the characters’ transformations throughout the film surround Black Hawk and his family. It would only seem right if we got to know him a bit better, but the film refuses to give us that satisfaction.
Taking out the few negatives, Hostiles is a well-made and well-shot film, but is not for everyone. If you’re totally against strong violence or child murders, then you may want to skip this one. The film still breaks your heart, even though it lacks emotion and proper character development. However, with both Pike and Bale’s commanding performances and tense sequences, Hostiles is still on the higher ranks of western films.
Rated R for strong violence, and language