I’ve been sick the last part of this week so I was not sure what I was going to be able to handle today. However, I was feeling considerably better so I went off to see one of the wide releases of the weekend which was actually one of the movies released in December for Oscar consideration, Hostiles.
Since this was the new film from Scott Cooper, the director behind Crazy Heart, Black Mass, and Out of the Furnace, I could guess one thing. The film was going to be dark, potentially depressing and slow moving. Thing was, I really liked this movie and did not find these traits (which Hostiles definitely has) to be a drawback.
The year is 1892, and Captain Joe Blacker (Christian Bale) is a Union Calvary man nearing the end of his career. He has been known as a brutally vicious soldier in battle, with a rep for killing Indians. When ordered by Col. Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang) to escort Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a Cheyenne who was also a brutal killer, and his family from New Mexico back to their homelands in Montana, Joe balks.
Joe had a past with Chief Yellow Hawk, who slit the throats and scalped three of Joe’s close friends. Joe refuses the order, threatening to take whatever punishment dealt to him. After some struggle, Col. Biggs convinced Joe, who knew the paths and had experience in the area and was the only one who would be able lead this troop, that he had no choice.
As the group were on the trail to Montana, they came across a burned down home of Rosalie Quaid, who was mourning the death of her family at the hands of a particularly vicious group of Comanche. Rosalie seemed to be in shock and appeared to be “broken.” Still, she allows them to bury her family and she accompanies them on the trip.
But the hazards of 1892 wilderness was just getting started as we see continual horrors show up from all areas of the world.
I really enjoyed this movie. I did not think it felt slow a I have heard some criticize it. I enjoyed the early parts where we saw character interactions between Joe and Rosalie, Joe and Chief, as well as the interactions with the Cheyenne tribe members. There were some interesting secondary characters who got all too little time to shine as well.
Both Christian Bale and Rosalind Pike are tremendous in their roles, and I really enjoyed what they gave to Wes Studi as well. These three characters had to be the strongest of the group since these were easily the ones that the film was centered around. In fact, one of the film’s weaknesses was that they did not develop the other secondary characters enough. Heck, Timothee Chalamet was in this movie for a hot second.
The fact that we did not get to know these characters better hurt the film. There was one scene where someone dies and I did not know who it was. I kept looking through the cast after the scene, trying to figure out who was gone. Never figured it out.
The other problem I had with the film was it seemed as if Joe and the Chief changed perspectives on each other really quickly. I understand that the necessity to team up was there, but Joe had protested so much earlier that it did not feel right and that made the ending feel as if it was not earned.
However, that was the only criticisms I had for the film. In fact, the rest of the relationship between Joe and the Chief was great. The idea that these two characters are the same character, just from different worlds was fascinating to me. It wasn’t the theme of the white man persecuted the Native Americans and treated them horribly like so many films use. It is also not that the Native Americans were savages and needed to be killed.It was both. It was a theme that any man, depending on POV, can commits acts of good or evil. You had Joe and the Chief both clearly solid, heroic men who had done many atrocities in their lives and they had to deal with what those acts made them.
Rosalind Pike’s arc was exceptional as well as she went from mourning widow to woman determined to continue. We see different variations of other characters along this same arc, which is why it would be nice to have had more with those other characters than what we got.
The film was beautifully shot and the exterior scenes brought the audience right into the world with the characters. There was an extended rain scene that was something else. I kept wondering if that rain was ever going to stop.
Again, this film is not as much about the anger between white man and the Indians as it is the internal struggle of humans to decide what they are willing to do and how they can live with that decision. The film was long but it never felt like it. As I said, I was sick this week and have not slept well so I worried about dozing off in the middle of this one. It did not happen, even once. The film captivated me from the beginning and, with the few exceptions about wanting more form the characters, I did not have much to complain about.