Hostiles: Movie Review
In the tradition of great Westerns like Unforgiven, True Grit, and The Searchers, Scott Cooper’s Hostiles arrives to remind us exactly why the genre has continued to be relevant and interesting for more than 100 years. And though it doesn’t seem like Hostiles will be remembered for decades to come as an all-time classic, it’s not because it doesn’t deserve it. What it lacks is a studio that had enough faith in it to give it a wide release sometime other than the desolate post-New Year wasteland.
Christian Bale, who continues to hold a spot as one of the top three actors working today (alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Matthew McConaughey), has rarely, if ever, been better than he is here. As Captain Joe Blocker, he does his best work since playing the beleaguered Russell in 2013’s Out of the Furnace (which also was written and directed by Cooper. And that’s no coincidence.)
Set in the American southwest in 1892, Hostiles begins with the slaughter of a homesteading family at the hands of a Comanche raiding party. The only survivor is Rosalie (Rosamund Pike), who escapes into the woods holding her dead baby in her arms.
Not far away Captain Blocker is getting his latest orders. He’s to escort an imprisoned, cancer-stricken war chief named Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his home lands in Montana. Blocker refuses at first but when threatened by his colonel with a court martial and the loss of his pension, he gathers a small detail to make the journey north.
Early in the ride they come upon the mourning and still-in-shock Rosalie at her destroyed homestead and convince her join them, and it’s here that Hostiles kicks into gear. Leaning on Stagecoach’s formula of putting strangers together to see if they can overcome their differences and defeat a common enemy, Hostiles provides ample showcase for Bale and Pike’s talents, along with the stellar supporting cast, which includes Timothée Chalamet, Jesse Plemons, and Rory Cochrane.
Cooper, who wrote the script from an unpublished manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart (The Hunt for Red October), has proven his not only his affinity for gritty American stories but his talent in bringing them to life on the screen. From 2009’s Crazy Heart to 2015’s Black Mass, he has never shied from presenting tough, often-violent stories as a showcase for some of cinema’s finest actors, and Hostiles is no exception. Bale turns in an understated but still wholly powerful performance, making us deeply feel his blistering internal conflict.
Hostiles is a raw, emotional, and timeless film that perfectly captures the spirit of the Old West. It’s not only the best Western in recent memory, it’s also one of the finest films of the year.