When a movie-goer sees a western, they expect cowboys, horses, saloon shoot-outs and maybe a duel at high noon.
“Hostiles” isn’t a typical western, but when Scott Cooper’s new film begins with a quote stating the American soul is one of an unfazed killer and is followed by a gruesome family murder, then the audience knows what type of movie they’re in for.
Toward the end of the 19th century, an Army captain with a self proclaimed hatred for Native Americans (Christian Bale) is chosen to escort a dying Native American chief (Wes Studi) and his family from his New Mexico prison to his home in Montana.
What follows is a journey filled with contempt, but also flashes of forgiveness and hope which resonate much stronger than they would have in a cliché “feel good” western.
Nearly every character in “Hostiles” is constantly either attempting to bury a begrudging feeling or justify their resentment for someone different than them.
As the party travels through the desolate lands of New Mexico to the lavish forests of Colorado, new realizations are made but old thoughts always threaten to sneak back into their minds.
Every character’s sanity is on the brink of fleeting and the farther north they travel the more dangerous it begins to feel.
While the script for “Hostiles” is strong, it’s the magnificent performances that make it shine.
Bale is a world class actor so it’s no surprise he displays a monstrous internal struggle beautifully without a hint of overacting. It takes no more than a glance to see Captain Blocker is torn to his core and is looking for stability wherever he can find it, whether it be in his fellow Army officers or his commitment to his mission.
Studi plays the dying Chief Yellow Hawk with poise and sincerity to a degree where the respect he garners oozes off the screen. What begins as a strange cordial hatred between him and Bale slowly forms into an understated appreciation for one another and this wouldn’t be possible if Studi didn’t act with so much aplomb.
Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi gives the audience beautiful images to look at during this dark, slow-burning movie. Some shots linger for just a second creating a sense of serenity while also allowing the audience to soak in the gorgeous landscape through which the group is traveling.
“Hostiles” is a powerful film about hatred, exoneration and forgiveness with loaded performances. See it if you can.
Reporter Cameron Coyle can be reached at 270-745-2655 or [email protected]