Hostiles: This picturesque odyssey has a great screenplay and some splendid performances, but fails to delve deep into issues
Movie Review by Annie Cynthia (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
You need to acquire the skill of “patience” to watch this dark film, directed and scripted by Scott Cooper from Donald E. Stewart’s manuscript. Cooper is acclaimed for his biographical dramas and war subjects like Black Mass and Crazy heart. His latest film, Hostiles stirs us with stellar cinematography, compelling drama and great performances. But true to its name, the film celebrates gore and savagery.
The movie begins with D.H. Lawrence’s quote, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted.” It is almost like it gives gist of the film. In short, Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is given a direct order from the military to accompany a dying Comanche war chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes studi) and his family to their hometown in Montana. Blocker agrees reluctantly as he detests the chief, who has a history of butchering innocent people. While travelling from Fort Berringer, a young widow, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) joins the parade after losing her family to the American-Indians. Together they are to face the unforgiving landscape, savage tribes and hostile men on their journey to the usurped land of Montana.
The film’s theme rests around the aftereffects of war and PTSD. It shows the undesirability of a hostile state of existence among men. The backdrops are enchanting with a top-grade cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi. Be it the single shot sequences of Bale or the harsh natural landscapes; he has used beautiful wide-angled and slow zoom techniques that are top of the line. The palette is restricted to grey and green hues, adding another dimension to the cinematography.
Max Richter’s haunting background score adds drama to the sequences of immense grief and realization of truth. The screenplay is taut, has some really good dialogues and brief moments of silence, when the need arises. The visuals are enhanced using top notch sound designs, and during the rains, you can almost feel the wetness gripping your bones.
The strength of the film is Bale and Pike’s riveting performances. The film’s cast express their emotions through actions rather than words. Bale’s Blocker gives a towering performance as a war-hardened veteran and a racist who hates American-Indians. With a moustache covering almost half of his face, Bale’s rage and bitterness is reflected through his fierce eyes. Pike plays the worked-up widow, rescued by Bale and shows severe symptoms of PTSD. In the scenes, where Pike becomes hysterical over burying her family and in another, fires a dead Camanche multiple times, are some of the best scenes in the film. But sadly, Wes Studi as chief Yellow Hawk gets a raw deal as one fails to empathize much with his character. As a brilliant actor, he does not get a well-etched out character to portray on screen.
The film focuses on the redemption of the lead character (Bale), which has potential to stand on its own, but is only partly captured. Also, the film fails to give a sufficient explanation for the genocide of Indigenous Americans and you are left wondering about the basis of the constant conflict in the film among the lead characters.
As a dark and beautiful western voyage, Hostiles, impresses with its strong performance, enhancing backdrop and great screenplay. But we wish that the film delved deeper into important issues, that just remain touched upon.