Hard Country: Our Review of ‘Hostiles’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 19, 2018
Hard Country: Our Review of ‘Hostiles’

Scars of war take the longest to heal…

While Hostiles may present some hard to deal with moments in the aftermath of war and the men who but it serves as salient reminder of the toll that war takes on the lives of men thanks to a gripping performance from its leading man in the tradition of some of the more stronger efforts in the genre of the western in recent memory.

US Calvary Officer Capt Joseph J Blocker (Christian Bale) is tasked with escorting a dying Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and his family across dangerous territory to their home.  This is a bitter assignment for Blocker on the tail end of his career as he’s seen his fair of bloodshed in fighting against the Cheyenne but as they face their challenges along the way, he learns how the horrors of war have changed them both and is forced to confront the racism and hatred that has been brewing inside him for so very long.

A story that applies to any age, Hostiles reminds of the importance of not necessarily forgetting the past, but not letting it define us at the same time. It’s a western that while falling short of some of the more iconic entries in the genre like The Searchers & Unforgiven it doesn’t shy away from the unforgiving nature of war and in the wild west of the America’s coming on the brink of the birth of the 20th Century.

Director Scott Cooper and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi turn the worlds of the undefined plains into a world unto themselves that hold a myriad of secrets that no one truly wants to confront.  It’s a sharp, beautiful yet nihilistic affair that doesn’t flinch from the darkness that some of these characters willingly and necessarily want to hide in.  It shows the tortured nature of warriors on the brink of a new age being forced to let go of everything that they’ve ever known and which has kept them alive all this time.  Cooper also allows the film to make a rather salient social commentary on the horrors of war and how we expect our warriors to be able to return to a normal life far easier than they should.  It’s the dichotomy between life and war, and only the warriors truly understand that as much as they should be to adapt and be willing to find solace outside of the violence, it’s an existence they’ve lived so long that it is quite simply easier said than done.

Cooper allows this to be a brutal yet truly humanistic affair as Bale goes above and beyond to show us the tortured layers of Blocker’s soul that he puts on the screen.  Bale doesn’t play it for any of the easy tropes that he could have leaned on and that plays to his favor in more ways than one.  He’s a stoic warrior and a man among men, but is obviously tortured and weary from everything that he’s had to experience in his life time.  He knows how to hold himself together, but he also worries about those loyal men that who have served with him and aren’t quite managing as well as he is on the way out of their military service. 

When men who have only known the violence of conflict their entire adult lives are forced to hang it up, where do they go?  It’s a point that plays well on the opposite side of this coin as Wes Studi and Adam Beach as the Cheyenne that Bale’s Blocker is forced to escort home are just as conflicted as he is, and while they don’t get enough time to play with that idea, they do well with what they have been given.  Happy to return to their homes, but uneasy with the new alliances that they are faced with.  Rosamund Pike brings a genuine human element to it all as the settler who has to witness her family ravaged and killed before she joins up with Bale and his troops.  She captures the hard life of exploration that so many people in this burgeoning new world had to endure.  The likes of Stephen Lang, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Timothée Chalamet and Ben Foster all brings something to the table but the film rides and ultimately hinges on Bale’s performance, which was great but the movie as a whole could have used just a little bit more.

 Hostiles won’t attain the status of classic but it does rank as one of the better recent efforts to come out of the western genre.

  • Release Date: 1/19/2018
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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