Entertainment Studios, 2017
Scott Cooper’s revisionist western struggles to find itself.
“Hostiles” begins with a brutal scene hearkening back to John Ford’s classic, “The Searchers.” A frontier family is massacred by Comanches, and only Rosamund Pike’s character, Rosalie Quaid survives. Cut to Christian Bale’s grizzled Cavalry Captain, Joseph Blocker; he and his men abusing an Apache captive while his family screams in fear. Writer/Director Scott Cooper wants the audience to understand there were atrocities committed by both sides in the struggle for the American West. A revision to the revisionist Westerns of the 1970’s.
Cooper’s film struggles to find its identity as it follows Blocker’s mission to deliver a Cheyenne Chief(Wes Studi) to Montana territory at the Government’s behest. Blocker witnessed the Chief kill his men, and wants no part of the President’s PR stunt. The mission assaults everything his storied Indian fighting career stood for, yet his desire to retire with dignity compels him to accept. Bale’s strong performance captures Blocker’s transformation from stoic killer to noble savior, but inconsistencies in the script give the film an unbalanced tone. One part gritty realism, another an enemies- to- friends journey, yet all-the-while a personal redemption tale- “Hostiles” wants to be all three. There is just enough clarity, found in the performances, to make the film effective.
Cooper is at his best when orchestrating onscreen action with the beautiful New Mexico scenery. There is a palpable homage to the classic westerns of the 1960’s throughout the film. The script should also be commended for its stirring portrayal of post traumatic stress in the characters exposed to unimaginable violence. Pike and Studi’s considerable talents get lost in the redemptive glow of Bale’s transformation. Studi is understated yet noble, but definitely needed more from the script. Pike’s Mrs. Quaid fades into the scenery during the final third of the film. The presence of a black soldier in the squad is never adequately explained, considering the film is set 56 years before the military was desegregated.
The film should have stopped when the journey was completed. A violently disjointed coda fails to provide a satisfying ending to the story. Blocker and his prisoner achieve a noble understanding; though both guilty of horrific violence, they found common ground in an unforgiving world.