Movie Review: 'Hostiles' starring
Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, and Wes Studi
Hostiles finds importance in hostility
'Hostiles' is a touching and bleak allegory of race told through the eyes of Indians and American's in the 1890's. That is why the ending to Scott Cooper's moving Western epic is one of the most fitting I have seen in years. The movie ends (Not a spoiler) with an enlightened yet shameful soldier on a train, who has just witnessed the grisly deaths of those on both sides of the constant unending fighting. On one side of the frame there are the posh American civilians the other the vast and frayed desert that belongs to the Indians and in the medium is our protagonist baring the weight of moral inquiry. It's an ending dreadfully ironic and poetic. One that deliberately created the same dark political undertone of John Ford's Western classic 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' just toting a different message. The edifice of the railroads caused the "war" between the Indians and the Americans, both showing extraneous and brutal hostility for land, as neither side can be judged as morally unequivocal.
That is one of the many delicacies here, Cooper's grounded ability to stay neutral. The juxtaposition between grief and calamity from the mind of the Indian to that of the American moves seamlessly to Max Ritcher's enunciated score that has a voice of its own. Although the entire film boldly carries its own discrete modulation. The eternal legendary landscapes of the wild west have been stapled into the time capsule of American cinema, as the formula of masculine duels, desolate landscapes, and dingy booze filled saloons made for some of the greatest pictures of the 40's, 50's, 60's, and some of the finest achievements in film-making ever. 'Hostiles' sets out to be equally grandiose and remain historically accurate, while at the same time introducing a modernist look at ethical quandary and virtue. And in doing so it succeeds.
'Hostiles' is at its core an existential western, as psychological nuance speaks volumes to the stories message of equality and Americas's inability to find the human in the alien. This is the idea that drives the characters of this star-studded melodrama. The protagonist is Captain Joseph Blocker(Christian Bale) who makes a living through genocide, as he kills Indians and destroys families with normalcy. In his plans to retire, he must do one last job to collect his sizable pension. He, of course, greets the job with revulsion as he is told to escort a chief Indian who goes by the name of Yellow Hawk(Wes Studi) and his family to their tribal grounds. Members of the crew include talented names Timothee Chalamet, Rory Cochrane, and Jesse Plemons who are fine in their limited time on screen. Yet it's Bale, Rosamund Pike, and Ben Foster who are astounding and convincing in their own right. Pike has just witnessed the death of her family to ruthless Indians, Bale has been slaughtering such Indians his entire life, yet the twos hatred slowly grows with sympathy as they come to realize their hardships as devastatingly close to their own. The turning point of their change of heart comes when they meet the predatory Ben Foster, who is condemned for the very same acts Captain Blocker had been doing for decades.
This presents a turnaround in Bale's attitude that nearly mirrors Sam Rockwell in my favorite film of 2017 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri', another avant-garde coming of age western about race and change of heart. Although Bale, unlike Rockwell criminally went without a nomination at the Oscars this year. The twos absolution along with Pikes character were easily some of the most encouraging and appropriate things to emerge from the Cineplex in 2017.
Pike delivers the standout line, one that voices the nature of this twisted tale, as she states "sometimes I envy the certainty of death". We go through life with uncertainty, but one thing for certain we can treat others with respect and dignity. And although the message isn't much fun, it is one that is in dire need of being said. Whereas some duels are an exciting and effervescent, as the underdog's swift hand of justice lays down the law. Take the finales of 'My Darling Clementine', 'The Good the Bad and the Ugly', or even this years back and forth no defense Super Bowl. Whereas we can all look at Super Bowl LII(2018) shootout as incredibly engaging entertainment, the shootouts here are as grim as the subject matter itself, making for an emotional yet essential viewing.