Author: Gus Baker
Trust the Critics
In the 1960s and 70s the Western genre was the most popular in cinema. Westerns were basically the period equivalent of modern superhero films. They featured larger than life heroes that perform near superhuman feats to defeat the bad guys. They were headlined by the largest starts of the decade, and were guaranteed box office gold. Nowadays, we seem to get about one good western per year, as they can be financially risky for studios. However, if done right Westerns can still make a splash in the modern market. Last year we got the neo-western Hell or High Water, an excellent installment in the western genre. This year, director Scott Cooper and lead actor Christian Bale bring us Hostiles, a period western that fits firmly in the revisionist sub-genre of western.
As a fan of the Western genre, I was excited when the first trailers for Hostiles were released. I like Christian Bale and was looking forward to seeing him act in a new genre. After seeing the film, I can confidently say the trailers don’t do the film justice and that Bale impresses a western hero. Critics tend to agree with me, with 72% of critics and 72% of audience members giving Hostiles a positive review according to reviewer aggregate Rotten Tomatoes. Personally, I think that Hostiles is underrated, even with its mostly positive reputation.
A True Revisionist Western
Hostiles does an excellent job depicting the daily strife faced by settlers, soldiers, and native peoples living in the American west. It pulls no punches in depicting the brutalities committed by native peoples on planes settlers, nor in depicting the similar cruelties inflicted upon native peoples by the American army. The violence depicted is extremely gruesome, reflecting the harsh reality of the time. Hostiles is certainly a film unfit for the faint of heart.
The story is engaging from start to finish, with nary a dull moment in 133 minutes of run time. I can only describe it as the type of emotional roller coaster you want of ride again and again. The film’s nihilistic overtones are fitting for a contemporary western and work exceptionally well with the plot without sticking in your face. Perhaps more than anything else, Hostiles makes us contemplate which actions are justified by war and which are simply unforgivable.
The incredible story is brought to life by a stellar cast lead by Christian Bale, who stars as the highly complex Captain Joseph Block. Block is an aging veteran of multiple wars with nearly thirty years of service to the Union Army and a fondness for reading the writings of Julius Caesar. Wes Studi plays the wise and venerated Chief Yellow Hawk, in perhaps the best performance of his career and Rosamund Pike delivers a truly emotional performance as the tragic Rosalie Quade; who’s faith and fortitude are tested when her family is murdered by a party Cheyenne horse thieves. Along with lead roles, the entire supporting cast is excellent as well. Just as inspiring as the cast are the breathtaking shots of the western countryside. As we follow Captain Block on his journey from New Mexico to Montana, we are treated to views of sprawling plains, roaring rivers, mountain ranges and deep valleys. The cinematography would no doubt have earned an Oscar nomination had Hostiles been released in time for award season.
Overall Rating 9.5/10 – With its stellar performances, incredible scenery, and superb story Hostiles sets the bar high early in 2018. I can only hope that this is a sign of a good year of movies after a 2017 that felt underwhelming.