The western genre has largely been fading away with the years, there’s been attempts to adapt it with a more modern feel, and that’s certainly worked out with the likes of Hell or Highwater and Wind River, but it’s been a while since we’ve had a classic western film; director Scott Cooper decided to take the gamble.
Hostiles takes place in 1892, Captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) is a hardened soldier in New Mexico, who has grown a particular animosity against Native Americans after warring with them through the years. It’s therefore incredibly frustrating for him when he’s tasked by his superior to escort a native Chief (Wes Studi) back to his homeland in Montana with the rest of his family.
Scott Cooper has been known to take gambles with his films; he decided to make films on rundown musicians (Crazy Heart), rust-beld America (Out of the Furnace), and a gangster flick (Black Mass) all when the genres weren’t bringing in a lot of money at the box office. It’s admirable then that he should keep making the films he wants to, based on the power of a script rather than coin. The particular script for Hostiles is an incredible poetic and ruthless story that Cooper brings to life after honing his skills as a director in the past decade. This film is not only an incredibly effective western, but it might just be as good as a western can get; I wouldn’t hesitate to start comparing Hostiles to some of Sergio Leone’s great films, who fill their imagery with the beauty and horror of the American West.
The triumph of Hostiles is in providing sufficient points of views, be they from intellectual folks preaching about human rights, to the gritty soldiers who have lived the violence of nature and man, and to the women and natives who have been relegated their whole lives. The power in the performances come from the silences, Rosamund Pike has a stellar turn in a supporting role as a widowed woman that Blocker’s expedition picks up. Bale himself brings a heart wrenching performance from a character that seemingly is hardened and void of emotion, but the Welsh actor somehow manages to give Blocker a soul behind his eyes and bushy moustache.
In the end every aspect of the film has been so carefully planned out and executed that there’s nothing left but to appreciate the masterpiece that has been produced. Hostiles should be admired more given that it was such a gamble to make, but thank god there are still bold filmmakers out there.