Directed By: Scott Cooper
Written By : Scott Cooper
Runtime: 134 mins
‘Hostiles’ or in long hand ‘The new Christian Bale movie’ is a movie that takes place during those trying times of the post Civil War era. Gorgeously directed and intricately written by Scott Cooper, ‘Hostiles’ starts off with a bang as a group of merciless Indians steal horses, shoot an infant child, and set fire to a poor settler’s (Rosamund Pike) New Mexico homestead. That sequence may be the most enticing in the film as afterwards, things slow way down and the film begins to tell the story of the grey areas of right and wrong. Looking grisled and plump, army Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) is tasked with escorting an Indian Chief and his tribal family members back to their home land of Montana. At first he resists, citing that this Indian Chief has killed and slaughtered dozens of his men on the battlefield and was particularly brutal about it. Seeking away out of his life of violence, Captain Blocker only agrees because this will be his last mission before he receives his retirement pension. The Captain then goes on to pick his ragtag group of soldiers, which interesting for the times, includes an African American officer.
On the surface, this movie may seem like a war action movie, but in reality it is about the tensions between whites, blacks, Indians, and classism. One of the most interesting things that is explored is the grey area of the law and how it constitutes right and wrong. One of the things that the film also does, and very poignantly, is capture where racial hatred and bias can come from. The time period is especially important as most of these men didn’t have ‘civil rights’ such as white men did. Much like today with the “build the wall” rhetoric, opinions on who had rights were divided into two camps. Those who sought humane treatment of American Indians and Blacks and those that saw them as savages, uncivilized, or less then. When an Indian kills to protect their land, they are considered savages, when a white man kills an Indian in a equally inhumane way it’s: “y’all stay off my property ya hear!” Then the law is designed to keep the people who have power in power, and to demonize those who try to change their situation. For example: why is it okay to kill a person during war time, but it is not okay to kill them during a non-war time? What is the real value of a human life? ‘Hostiles’ struck so many parallels with what was happening today in society, and it was so on the nose, that it was almost annoying. Like there was a big neon sign that said: “WE ARE SENDING A POLITICAL MESSAGE.” Which isn’t bad, it just wasn’t at all subtle the way a movie like ‘Shape of Water’ would disguise the same messages.
The film looks beautiful but is largely held together by the performances of Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike. Pike brings a craziness to her role as a PTSD-laden mother of three dead children, and one dead husband - all killed by Native Americans. Bale gives a more subtle performance, as a man who would rather choose his words wisely then speak without avail. He brings a quiet intensity to a role that would have been hard to play by less talented actors. I say that these two performances kept the movie ‘held together’ because otherwise, to put it bluntly, ‘Hostiles’ is boring and depressing. A lot of long trudges of nothing happening, riding on horseback as the sun goes down. It seemed like every scene started with: “alright, sun’s up, we gotta get moving.” It was droll without enough drama to happen along the journey. What is there only one group of hostile Indians or Fur Trappers from New Mexico to Montana? The U.S. is pretty big, I’m pretty sure a lot more would have happened that could have made the movie not so slow. It was depressing, because there was no real relief of any kind. No scene of soldier comradery, or some drunken tossle at a saloon. Films like ‘Tombstone’ have relief. Old Clint Eastwood films have some relief. I know that the times were hard, but does the audience have to be as depressed as they were in those pioneer photographs?
At one point in the film a soldier deserts Captain Blocker’s party saying that he cannot live with the way we’ve treated Native Americans and he leaves. It is in this scene that you think what really is the point of all this racial tension? Maybe the reason why ‘Hostiles’ is so depressing is because it holds up a mirror to society revealing that we really haven’t come very far from those times. Yesterday it was Native Americans, tomorrow it’s Mexican-Americans. Really the reason why the movie may be so slow and seems to drag on is that the longer the movie is the more pointless and trivial it all seems. The longer we spend with these characters the more quickly we realize that they all having something in common that common thread being: they are all flawed humans; needing to work together to survive. But really in today’s world, maybe those who have prejudices may have some justifications, but haven’t spent a lot of time with those of different races or spent enough time to realize that not everyone of that race is like that.
Ultimately, ‘Hostiles’ is an important film that people should see. They will not see it. Much like the 2017 film ‘The Free State of Jones,’ it’s a good movie that is saying something important but will ultimately fail (financially) because it lacks mass appeal. It’s slow, it’s boring, it’s uncomfortable. But watching a film like this, you do learn something and you would benefit more from having watched it versus not watching it.