Hostiles

 

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A powerful Western tale that impresses yet sometimes disappoints.

 
Hostiles

Christian Bale and Adam Beach

 

Following 2013’s Out of the Furnace, Christian Bale here reunites with writer/director Scott Cooper for a film of a very different kind. Whereas the earlier piece was a decidedly urban tale set in relatively recent times, Hostiles takes place in 1892 during a long trek to Montana. Bale plays Captain Blocker the man in charge of it who, on the eve of retirement, has been ordered to undertake this mission, one that could hardly be more displeasing to him (indeed his commanding officer has to coerce him by threatening the loss of his pension should he refuse the order). The fact is that Blocker has seen many comrades massacred by Indians who include in their number the Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and it is this very man, now aged and stricken with cancer, who, under a gesture decreed by the President, is to be released from captivity and escorted with his family back home so that he can die there.

 

As is apparent from the above, this is a western, but it is not a tale of adventure being something much darker than that. Indeed, it opens with a stunningly dramatic scene in which a family homestead becomes the target of an Indian attack leaving only one survivor, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike). When Blocker’s men come across the burnt-out remains of her home and the corpses of her husband and children, they take her along with them. What follows is a portrait of two people - Blocker haunted by past atrocities and Rosalie by present ones - gradually overcoming their grief and hatred. They both come to recognise that viewing all Indians as heartless hostiles is a prejudice that they must overcome. 

 

Cooper may have switched genres here but, wisely retaining the services of photographer Masanobu Takayanagi, he proves thoroughly adept in this new context: a sometimes slower than usual pace geared to aiding the depth of the characterisations does not preclude the inclusion of some strongly realised action scenes. Bale is well cast, Pike on fine form (although her most rewarding scenes are the opening ones) and the supporting cast is adroit, although it should be mentioned that Timothée Chalamet now famed for Call Me by Your Name has too minor a role to make any real impression.

 

Given the serious nature of Hostiles and its grim view of the realities of the Old West, the film to which it is closest is probably The Homesman made by Tommy Lee Jones in 2014. However, even if both pieces tend to become episodic in structure, the comparison underlines the fact that Cooper’s screenplay is less adept than the one in which Jones had a hand.  At times the dialogue seems rather self-conscious in its articulation of the conflict of viewpoints between what some would see as a just revenge while others would stress the desirability of looking for common humanity even in enemies. As in Out of the Furnace, the resolution prompts some awkward questions, while it is in no way Pike’s fault that the continued presence of Rosalie Quaid comes to seem a contrivance and one that leads to a final scene of unintended bathos. Ultimately, then, Hostiles is uneven, but it contains a good deal that impresses.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Q’orianka Kilcher, Peter Mullan, Scott Wilson, Paul Anderson, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, John Benjamin Hickey, Bill Camp, Robyn Malcolm, Stephen Lang.

 

Dir Scott Cooper, Pro Scott Cooper, John Lesher and Ken Kao, Screenplay Scott Cooper, from a manuscript by Donald Stewart, Ph Masanobu Takayanagi, Pro Des Donald Graham Burt, Ed Tom Cross, Music Max Richter, Costumes Jenny Eagan.

 

Waypoint Entertainment/Le Grisbi Productions-Entertainment Film Distributors.
133 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 5 January 2018. Cert. 15.