The 400-Word Review: Hostiles
By Sean Collier
January 29, 2018
For many, a film that begins with a Comanche war party callously slaughtering a family of white settlers will be too distasteful to endure.
Some will simply find that introduction off-putting on visceral levels; for others, it will feel like bad taste (to put it mildly) to yet again, in 2018, depict a Native American tribe as bellicose villains. And yes, while Hostiles does eventually become a narrative of cross-cultural understanding — and was endorsed, for its accuracy and detail, by the National Congress of American Indians — I can’t fault anyone for rejecting Hostiles after its opening scene.
If you stay, you will find a careful and weary meditation on animus in the face of death. Which ... I know, still does not really sell it. Ultimately, it’s a fine film with a lot going for it, but it’s a tough sell indeed. (Perhaps that’s why an aggressive marketing campaign from novice distributors Entertainment Studios has tried to sell it as more of a thriller; it is not.)
Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is tasked with escorting ailing Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his ancestral homeland, an order which Blocker is not too eager to carry out; he and Yellow Hawk are old adversaries, each having killed friends of the other. Threatened with the loss of his pension, Blocker assembles a team of soldiers — including new recruits played by Jesse Plemons and Timothee Chalamet — and begins the journey.
They swiftly run across the results of that Comanche raid, however, in the form of Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) and the bodies of her husband and three children. The aggressors are still nearby, and not likely to discriminate between the soldiers and the Cheyenne, forging a tentative bond that will flow, eventually, into respect.
The path is meandering; for a while, the Comanches are the enemy, then there are problems with fur traders, then a condemned prisoner (Ben Foster) that the party is saddled with along the trail. Ultimately, though, the villain is death; as it picks off soldiers and prisoners alike, racial bias seems increasingly futile.
Perhaps that’s a message worth delivering in polarized times; perhaps it could’ve been delivered in a slightly more deft (and sensitive) screenplay. Regardless, director Scott Cooper has crafted a bleak yet hearty picture — and, in reuniting with Bale, also his Out of the Furnace lead, drawn out a laudable performance.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark