Review: Hostiles (2017)

Hostiles (2017)

Directed by: Scott Cooper | 133 minutes | adventure, drama, western | Actors: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster, Peter Mullan, Wes Studi, Timothée Chalamet, Adam Beach, Scott Shepherd, Rory Cochrane, Jonathan Majors, John Benjamin Hickey, Stafford Douglas, Stephen Lang, Bill Camp, Jesse PlemonsRobyn Malolm, Ryan Bingham, Paul Anderson, Scott Wilson, Brian Duffy, Richard Bucher, Luce Rains

Most American westerns tend to evoke a romanticized image of the classic Wild West. Director Scott Cooper chooses a different path with his gloomy western ‘Hostiles’. A path in which there is no clear distinction between heroes and villains, and in which nineteenth century America is above all a battlefield in which tormented soldiers and Indians are fighting each other’s lives. In ‘Hostiles’, a group of soldiers traverse the knotty American landscape to bring a previously sworn enemy back to his homeland.

Already in the opening scene of ‘Hostiles’ it becomes clear that director Scott Cooper (previously responsible for ‘Crazy Heart’ and ‘Black Mass’) in his western opts for a raw and inky tone. A group of Comanche Indians attack a family, with only the mother (Rosamund Pike) surviving. With her newborn baby dead in her hands, she returns to her burned-down house, watching over her dead children. As soon as a group of American soldiers, led by veteran Joe Blocker (Christian Bale), passes by, she decides to join the band of men, who must have a terminal Indian chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family safely from southern to northern America. to pilot. Faced with violent enemies and tormented by the past, opposites Blocker and Hawk must join forces.

‘Hostiles’ is a movie without heroes and villains. For example, Bale’s Blocker is a complex character from which all the luck seems to have been drained from the past decades. Bale initially portrays Blocker as an at times too stiff and racist soldier, but manages to add some more nuance to his character as the film progresses. In that respect, the good factor lies more with Rosamund Pike, who slowly manages to recover from the traumatic events at the beginning of the film during the journey. They are quite difficult characters, but Bale and Pike’s strong acting keeps the characters afloat. The supporting roles are also more than excellent in ‘Hostiles’, with Ben Foster (‘Hell or High Water’) as a crazy Civil War veteran and Jesse Plemons (‘Breaking Bad’) and Timothée Chalamet (‘Call Me By Your Name’). as novice soldiers.

The main problem with ‘Hostiles’ lies mainly in the ambiguous message. One moment Cooper seems to want to say something about the nasty nature of the American soul, witness the opening quote by author DH Lawrence (“At its core, the American soul is hard, isolated and a murderer”), but at other moments Cooper strong emphasis on forgiveness and rapprochement. America is not exactly rosy in ‘Hostiles’ and Cooper at times seems to hold up a mirror to the viewer of today’s America, but the film is not sufficiently stable to be a really critical pamphlet on the ‘American soul’ .

Still, ‘Hostiles’ scores a good enough score at the end of the ride. The film is dazzlingly shot, the soundtrack beautifully intimate and the acting strong and understated. Although the film is a bit on the long side and director and screenwriter Cooper sometimes doesn’t seem to know exactly what message he wants to convey, ‘Hostiles’ is a visually overwhelming and raw western that will haunt your head for a while afterwards.

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