Nico’s Movie Review: ‘Hostiles’ Is Brutal, Cruel And Alienating
It seems like most movies I review nowadays, I know very little about. In this case, I saw the poster with Christian Bale and a Native American, and decided I'd rather see Hostiles than anything else on offer this week.
I definitely think this was the right choice on my part, because I certainly have a lot to say about this film.
Hostiles is set in the American West in the 1890's, and follows the journey US Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), who for some time has been stationed at a Fort in New Mexico where several Native Americans are being kept prisoner. One day, the President of the United States declares that the old, dying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) is to be escorted back to his homeland in Montana, and Captain Blocker is selected to carry the job out.
It is established very early on, and repeatedly throughout the film, that Bale's character carries a lot of hatred for the "savages", as he calls them; shortly after the journey begins, he has them put into chains, and keeps them under armed guard all hours of the day. Captain Blocker is said to have killed many Natives over the years, and at one point it is even mentioned that he participated in the massacre at Wounded Knee, which would have occurred only three years before the film.
Shortly after their journey begins, the party is joined by Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), who just had her family killed by a band of Comanche warriors. Beyond this, I won't go into further detail regarding plot points to avoid spoiling anything.
Hostiles is a violent, harsh, and tragic film, there is no kind way to put it. Lots of people die, and they die in very realistic, cruel ways. In this film, there are no heroes, or at least there wasn't to me; Captain Blocker is a mass murderer, as is Chief Yellow Hawk, and it's safe to assume that all of their respective men have shed gallons of blood as well. This creates a very bleak atmosphere, that lingers throughout the movie.
However, there are sparks of humanity; Captain Blocker is shown to truly care about his soldiers, and goes to great lengths to protect them, and his handling of the Widow Quaid is very kind and understanding as well. As always, Christian Bale is fantastic and when his character drops the "tough guy" persona it's truly moving. I wish people would stop casting Bale as the gruff man of few words, because it limits his range.
Rosamund Pike is absolutely amazing as well, particularly when we first meet her character. Her portrayal of trauma is gutting, and uncomfortable in the best way. When she first sees Yellow Hawk's family, she understandably breaks down, as the last time she saw Native people they were massacring her family. However, simple acts of kindness from the Native party soften her, and help her character develop.
I do need to talk about the politics of Hostiles, just for a moment. When the movie opens with a scene of whooping, war painted Indians riding in to slaughter an innocent white settler family, I began to worry that I was about to see a film straight out of the 1950's. Fortunately, my worries weren't grounded, because everyone in this movie is terrible, not just the Native Americans.
In one way, this is depressing and bleak, because it is so horrific, but on the other hand, this does seem to be a relatively realistic of what the American West was like. White settlers were setting up homes on land that wasn't theirs, and killing the "reds" indiscriminately, and in return the Native people responded with violence and murder as well. It was a dark time in the history of our country, and I'm glad to see that portrayed in film at least somewhat accurately.
However, I do wish that Hostiles featured a larger focus on the Native Americans in it, and on how their characters might have developed over the course of their journey. Both Bale and Pike's characters go through quite satisfying character arcs, but Yellow Hawk and his family really don't have as much of an arc. To be frank, at times it feels like one of those movies where the Native characters were simply props, to further the non-Native characters through their development.
Hostiles is not a fun film. It is not a happy film. It is not a movie you should take your kids to, just because they like Christian Bale in Batman. It is flawed, and at times a little dated, but I thought it was good, and well put together. I recommend giving it a watch, but be prepared to feel bad after leaving the theater.
See the trailer below.