Hostiles (R) ★★½

Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster,  and Jesse Plemons star in “Hostiles.” Photo credit: Entertainment Studios

Western Film Goes South

During the settling of this country, American Indians were often described as “savages” based on their fearsome reputation. While this connotation certainly struck fear in many, in reality, atrocities were committed by both sides in the battle for control of the United States. Truth be told, the tactics used by the U.S. were arguably worse and more effective. In the end, U.S. forces were too strong, and the Indian way of life was changed forever.

Although there have been a multitude of movies covering the settling of the west, American films did not have a respectable historical track record with its depiction of Native Americans. It was not until the 1990s with films like Dances with Wolves (1990) and Last of the Mohicans (1992) that mainstream movies really depicted Indians as anything more than bloodthirsty villains. The new western-drama, Hostiles, attempts to come to terms with the violent history between U.S. forces and the Indians. Unfortunately, even with noteworthy cinematography and an excellent A-list cast, the story fails to deliver a memorable experience and plods along at too many points. 

Hostiles, which is set out west in the 1890s, focuses on the end of the Indian Wars. The film’s opening scene follows a young family that is living in frontier New Mexico. While a young mother, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike, The Man with the Iron Heart, 2016), is teaching her young daughters to read, her husband sees a group of Comanche warriors descending on their house. Rosalie’s husband tries to defend the family but is shot and scalped while Rosalie and her daughters run away. Although Rosalie does find safety in the woods, all three daughters are killed in the escape and the house is burned down. The story then cuts to a regiment of U.S. soldiers who have captured an Apache family trying to escape resettlement by the American government. The troops are led by Captain John Blocker (Christian Bale, The Promise, 2016), a grizzled veteran of the Indian War who has no sympathy with the harsh treatment of the Indian family in his control. After returning to the fort with his prisoners, Blocker’s commander informs him of a new assignment: escort the dying Cheyenne war chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi, A Million Ways to Die in the West, 2014) and his family back to their lands in Montana. Blocker initially refuses the command (which came from the President) as he makes his utter hatred of Indians very clear. Blocker ultimately relents and accepts the assignment after being threatened with a court-martial and denial of his pension. Blocker is joined on the mission by his old friend, Sgt. Tom Metz (Rory Cochrane, Black Mass, 2016), as well as a recent West Point graduate (Jesse Plemons, The Post, 2017) and Private DeJardin (Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name, 2017).

The team sets out on its long trek after shackling the elderly Yellow Hawk and his family. Along the way, they quickly encounter the burned house that was the site of Comanche attack from the beginning of the film. As they investigate the house, Rosalie emerges in a manic state while still clutching her dead child. She is frightened by the presence of Indians with the troops, but ultimately agrees to accompany the group to a safer location. As Rosalie, the troops and Yellow Hawk’s family continue on their journey, they must overcome the threat of attack from both violent whites and Indians as well as deal with their own personal animosities and prejudices.

 Hostiles is a well-intentioned movie, but ultimately doesn’t live up to its potential. The film was written and directed by Scott Cooper who previously collaborated with Christian Bale in (Out of the Furnace, 2013). Bale, who plays the grizzled, tough Army captain is given the most screen time, but his performance doesn’t deliver emotionally, and you end up wishing many of his scenes were cut shorter. On the other hand, Rosamund Pike, in her limited number of scenes, is superb playing the grieving and frightened mother and wife. The remainder of the cast, which includes a number of great performers, don’t have much of an opportunity to do anything meaningful with their roles. Along those same lines, most of the Indian characters are largely underdeveloped, which is surprising considering the snails-pace of a plot. For a film that is tackling the sad and violent history of the U.S. versus Indians, its problematic when the Indian roles are either violent, mindless warriors or stoic victims. Besides Rosamund Pike’s outstanding performance, the best part of Hostiles is the stunning scenes of the American West.

Bottom Line: This slow-paced western-drama may sell audiences on a visit out west, but not on the film itself.  

Credits: Written and directed by Scott Cooper

Cast: Christian Bale (Captain Joseph Blocker), Rosamund Pike (Rosalie Quaid), Wes Studi (Yellow Hawk), Ben Foster (Sgt. Charles Wills), Stephen Lang (Col. Abraham Biggs), Rory Cochrane (1st Sgt. Thomas Metz), Jesse Plemons (Lt. Rudy Kidder), Timothee Chalamet (Private Phillipe DeJardin), and Jonathan Majors (Corporal Henry Woodson)

Studio: Entertainment Studios

Running Time: 133 minutes

Jessica DeLong © February 9, 2018