Abraham Lincoln could have curried much political favor in the West had he ordered the executions of 303 Dakota Sioux – Instead, he reviewed each case.
Despite the crushing defeat at Second Bull Run, the horrific carnage of Antietam, and the political fallout of issuing the Emancipation proclamation Lincoln still listened to the facts of the 303 condemned to hang in the Minnesota Sioux uprising of 1862.
Lincoln pardoned all but 38 of the defendants. Nearly 800 white settlers had been slaughtered in the uprising, and the public demanded retribution. Lincoln was not going to allow these murders to go unpunished, but he was determined to use his pardoning power judiciously.
General John Pope encouraged his Commander-in-Chief to order all 303 hangings, sighting the popularity of such a decision on the Minnesota frontier. Lincoln famously responded,
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.
Spare us your phony indignation over the Thanksgiving holiday… Stop posting the painfully naive memes about American Indians being killed or robbed by the Pilgrims- cease with the historically ignorant platitudes about rightful ownership and true “Native Americans.” You are only showing your ignorance of history; but in addition, on full display is your gullibility. An intellectual capacity so lacking it can be manipulated by a mundane utterance or passing snicker.
Give thanks this holiday… as Abraham Lincoln intended it. Carve the turkey, pass the stuffing, and enjoy some pumpkin pie. Instead of watching three meaningless football games, pick up a book and learn something about the first Thanksgiving. Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower is a good place to start. History is complicated and sometimes rather messy. If you can accept 140 characters or less as your teacher, your thoughts on any matter are insignificant.