Review written by Raul De Leon
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted”. The film opens with this quote by D.H. Lawrence, and it sticks to it until the very end. Hostiles is a cold, no-nonsense western that epitomizes the seeds buried under our American feet. Writer/director Scott Cooper stands his ground, tenaciously resisting modern cinema’s quick-pace, to truly carry on the traditional stride of our strapping Western classics.
This ain’t no good guy, bad guy deal. Natives, soldiers, fur traders, farmers, landowners – they’re all treading the same turf, looking out for themselves, and upholding their own duty by the forceful will of the six-shooter. Joe (Christian Bale) is a Union Captain with a vicious history among native “savages”, but he must swallow every ounce of his pride when he is assigned to safely escort Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk and his family back to their homeland and into freedom. Along the way, Joe and his men, pick up and look after the delusional Mrs. Quaid (Rosamund Pike), who lost her entire family to a band of native butchers. Animosity along with wisdom, guilt, regret, and dignity vibrates among the diversified camp on their long and fateful journey.
The wild road they travel is not unlike the road America has taken itself – an overcoming of pride and prejudice, coupled with lots of killing. It’s a sentimental and disastrous game of shootouts and reflections, as one murderous altercation is followed by another with emotional contemplation in between. Gun battles ring out in intensity because in this territory, anyone can drop at anytime. With death being around every corner, our characters are placed in a relentless turbulence of nature’s matter-of-factness. In this mortal space, individuals see the light and the night, and Hostiles braces its bleak attitude with human prosperity.
War is the teacher, and Joe’s hard-shell endures blow after blow. With a pushed chest, a directing tone, and an imperturbable temper in the face of distress and danger, Captain Joe embodies Lawrence’s view of the American the most. Bale plays Captain Joe perfectly; anybody not familiar with the former Batman star, may find it hard to believe that the Englishman isn’t an All-American war vet. Joe’s Americanness is only rivaled by Yellow hawk and the the natives themselves whose unceasing nerveless presence suggests a deep accustom and insight to death. Death is what sternly beats on Mrs. Quaid, as she battles with sanity and spirit. Pike (Gone Girl) didn’t exactly click in her neurotic episodes, but she shapes up as her character does. Secondary characters keep our mains in good company with histories and seasoning of their own. Veteran Master Sgt. Thomas Metz anticipates an eclipsing crisis that contrasts greenhorn Lt. Kidder’s newly born virgin war feelings. And Joe’s old comrade, Sgt. Wills, who Joe must transport as a prisoner mid-story, adds a meaningful suspense-piece with a twist of moral culpability to the expedition.
Vets, novices, natives, foreigners, women, children, and a black corporal… Hostiles is a hefty companion journey with a stern look at the severity of American life. It’s a man-made country where women are complimentary, blacks are sparsely incorporated, natives are sidelined, and bullets are the land’s fertilizer. Cooper tells the story he wants to tell, the way he wants to tell it, and it’s one of his best.
If you liked Hostiles (2017), you might also like; Dances With Wolves (1990), Open Range (2003), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), American Sniper (2014).
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