HOSTILES opens with a statement by D.H. Lawrence on how hostile the west was – and how the heat of the west can never be melted. Scott Cooper’s (BLACK MASS) film attempts to prove otherwise in his brooding western, interspersed with action sequences that are enough to jolt any audience from thought.
The setting is 1892. The film opens with a tense and well executed sequence of the massacre of the Quaid family by Indians, the only survivor being the widow (Rosamund Pike). Director Cooper makes sure the audience feels for her, and for her hatred towards the Indians.
The film then introduces its main character, an embittered and battle-hardened US Cavalry officer, Joseph L. Blocker (Christian Bale) ordered to accompany a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their tribal lands in Montana. Captain Blocker (Christian Bale) has seen more than his fair share of violence and bloodletting on the frontier and will obviously see more by the end of the film, but this mission, which he is forced to accept, is a particularly bitter pill to swallow: Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) has been his mortal enemy for years due to a conflict that killed many of Blocker’s friends. On the other hand, the Chief has also lost friends in the conflict. To make matters worse, the widow, Rosalie Quaid joins in the journey.
Blocker is a racist, a man who harbours a deep hatred towards the former prisoners now placed in his care. As the challenges mount, Blocker is forced to confront his own bigotry while carrying out his orders. But there are no long monologues or cheap theatrics to get the message across.
But in the final scene, Blocker says goodbye to Rosalie at the train station, her hand holding the young orphaned Cheyenne boy. “You are a good man, Joe Blocker.” These are Rosalie’s farewell words to Blocker. These are unexpected words resulting in events that show that reconciliation is possible, despite how hopeless things appeared at the start.
Christian Bale is almost perfect in the title role of the racist with a conscience. It is not a cardboard character but one that undergoes development. Bale does a lot of brooding, but the changes in him come from the vents that flow his journey through the hostile land. Pike is also good as the storm-willed suicidal widow. Adam Beach (SUICIDE SQUAD) is surprisingly not given much to do while Wes Studi (DANCES WITH WOLVES, LAST OF THE MOHICANS) has a few lines that emphasize his strong character as the Indian chief. Ben Foster is sufficiently menacing as an escorted criminal.
Coopers action scenes are well orchestrated and lift the otherwise slow moving film that at times almost sinks too low. The film is quite lengthy, running at over the 2 hour mark.
HOSTILES is a quietly powerful film, difficult to watch but nevertheless gets its message across with the hopeful ending.