Movie Review: “Hostiles”
The year is 1892, and the United States Army is at war with various Native American tribes in the west. Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) has become a legendary captain in the United States Army and is now seeking retirement. His superiors, however, have one last mission for him. A prisoner, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), is very sick, and the United States Army has made a deal that would allow him to be released so that he can spend the rest of his life with his tribe. Captain Blocker’s mission is to escort the dying Chief to his tribe, ensuring that the dying man gets there alive.
Captain Blocker does not exactly hide his contempt for the mission, as does Chief Yellow Hawk. He may be a sick old man now, but he and his tribe have been responsible for the horrific deaths of many Americans. Captain Blocker’s pride tells him to let the old man rot in his cage, or to just kill him himself. However, Captain Blocker’s duty tells him to complete the mission that he has been given. With members of the United States Army wanting the Chief dead, and Native Americans wanting to kill Captain Blocker and his crew, Captain Blocker will have many enemies along the way. With imminent danger around every corner, this last mission will certainly not be an easy one.
The Pros & Cons
Christian Bale & Rosamund Pike (+8pts)
Pride vs. Duty (+6pts)
Too Many Characters (-2pts)
Capt. Blocker vs. Chief Yellow Hawk (-2pts)
Pro: Christian Bale & Rosamund Pike (+8pts)
Christian Bale is an incredibly talented actor that transforms into his roles, and consistently delivers exceptional dramatic performances. Hostiles is no exception. Captain Blocker has a lot of internal struggle in this movie. He is forced to take a hard look at what he has done through his time in the Army, while being forced to humanize an enemy, which makes him wonder what it was all for. It was an interesting character story, and Christian Bale knocked the role out of the park.
Rosamund Pike’s character was not exactly a part of the main story. However, after a tragic attack at the hands of a Native American tribe, she crosses paths with Captain Blocker and his crew. Her character has a very tragic story. It is a story of loss, vengeance, empowerment, and it was a compelling one to see Rosamund Pike bring to the screen.
Con: Slow (-4pts)
I liked the movie, but I felt like the filmmakers had a script that could have been a lean one hour and forty minute movie. However, it felt like they stretched it out to two hours and fifteen minutes. The result is a lot of slow scenes. The characters were compelling for what they were dealing with, but as much as I liked the characters and their story, I still thought the film felt unnecessarily drawn out and slow.
To be completely honest, I do not think this significantly hurt the movie. That being said, it was definitely my biggest issue with the movie. The filmmakers clearly wanted to dwell on the actors and their performances, to showcase them as much as possible, but this movie definitely could have been trimmed down by about thirty minutes or so. The result would have been a more refined story, that still showcased the performances, but did not feel like it dragged on unnecessarily.
Pro: Pride & Duty (+6pts)
I liked the internal conflict that the main character of this story was forced to struggle with. His pride told him to do one thing, but his duty required him to do something completely different. When seeing it typed out like this, it may be easy to say that the character should do his duty. However, for Captain Blocker, that meant going against something he has been fighting and risking his life for, for many years. The character has to ignore his instincts, and ignore everything he knows about the man he has been tasked with escorting.
I enjoyed this inner conflict, and I enjoyed Christian Bale’s portrayal of it. This was a compelling character story, because the character has clearly never been more challenged by his duty. This very well may have been the only time that this character’s duty conflicted with what believes in, but it was certainly the one that challenged him the most, and it is always interesting to see how someone deals with such a conflict. The movie then takes this conflict a step further by challenging what the character believes is right and wrong. As great as Christian Bale’s performance was, the filmmakers gave him some truly compelling material to work with.
Con: Too Many Characters (-2pts)
Unfortunately, I thought that this movie felt a bit cluttered with side characters. There were a lot of them, and it was sometimes hard to keep track of their motivations. The story threw a complex issue at the protagonist, but it threw the same issue at some of the side characters as well. On one hand, I liked seeing the different perspectives and also enjoyed seeing the types of characters that Captain Blocker’s crew encountered on their journey through the west. On the other hand, I thought there were too many characters to keep track of, and they ended up distracting from the main character's story.
It was not that any specific character did not work for me. Instead, there were just too many side characters for me to care about or to keep up with. Reducing how many side characters were in this story would have done two things for this movie. It would have made me care about the characters that were in the movie, and it would have given more screen time to flesh out the primary characters even more. Fortunately, this is me nitpicking, as me choosing this as a con was a result of having so few issues with this movie.
Pro: Intensity (+6pts)
The movie may have been a slow burn, but it was certainly intense. The internal conflict that the main character faced was a compelling one, but it was the feud that was so effective at ramping up the film’s intensity. The Native Americans justifiably hated the United States Army for taking their land by force and killing members of their tribes, while members of the United States Army hated the Native Americans for barbarically killing soldiers and innocent civilians.
Both sides did terrible things, and both sides had their reasons hating the other. The filmmakers did a great job of making this feud feel chaotic, and did a great job of making it feel like the protagonists were always on the verge of more danger. Even more intensity was added by not really knowing what Captain Blocker would do. Would he protect the prisoner, or would his hatred get the better of him? This was a story filled with danger, passion, and intensity, and I thought the filmmakers did a really good job of bringing these things to the screen to some degree. They built the intensity throughout the movie, and it all came to a head at a very intense climax. Again, the movie had its slower moments, but if you were to imagine the film’s intensity as a trend-line, it would be progressively increasing with a few dips along the way.
Con: Capt. Blocker vs. Chief Yellow Hawk (-2pts)
While I thought the filmmakers did a good job of building the intensity surrounding the feud between the groups, I thought the filmmakers could have done a better job at developing the relationship between Captain Blocker and Chief Yellow Hawk. The characters were on opposite sides, but they had their similarities. They hated each other, but understood each other (although they would not like to admit it). This was a relationship that could have been fascinating to see developed further. They were essentially two sides of the same coin, and their relationship could have added a lot of context to how the audience viewed both sides of the war. The filmmakers certainly touched on the differences and similarities between these two characters, but it would have been compelling to see this get more focus.
Grade: B+ (87pts)
Hostiles was far from being a fast-paced, or action packed western. However, it had talented lead actors, compelling character stories, and had plenty of slow-building intensity. It is a story about pride versus duty, is a story about revenge and empowerment, and is a story that forces its characters to take a hard look at who they are as well as what they have done. Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike knocking their respective roles out of the park, the strong character stories, and the constant imminent danger, all kept me watching intently.
The movie was not perfect, however. It was definitely a slow burn, as it felt a bit drawn out and had its slower sections, but the characters’ compelling stories got me through it. The movie felt cluttered with side characters, to the point where I had trouble caring or understanding who they were, but the movie’s intensity kept building nonetheless. This is a movie about the feud between Native Americans and the United States Army that does not try to glorify either side, and seems to actively try to show the darkest parts of both groups, although I would have liked to see the filmmakers dive deeper into the relationship between the primary characters of those groups. I think the filmmakers could have trimmed it down by about twenty or thirty minutes, but I still really enjoyed the movie.