What did you think of “Dances With Wolves?” Or, for that matter, “The Revenant” and “The Searchers?”
“Hostiles” has its ancestry in all these films. But it’s never derivative. It stands on its own as a grim, brutal western that’s as gritty as the land and the era it depicts, and every bit as intense. Additionally, its themes about racial tensions, redemption and war are timely.
Christian Bale is Capt. Joseph Blocker, with the U. S. Cavalry. The story is set in 1892 when he is assigned to escort dying Cheynne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico to the Yellow Hawk’s tribal Montana home.
Blocker has fought Native Americans for years, and he does not want this assignment. After all, he has seen Yellow Hawk kill many of his friends. But Blocker does want his pension, and soon he begins his journey with a group of men who encounter a woman named Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) who is on the brink of insanity after a devastating loss.
The entire group is at risk, now, because the men who left Rosalie with such great loss may be after them.
Screenwriter/director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) adapted the script from a manuscript by the late screenwriter Donald E. Stewart (“A Clear and Present Danger” and “The Hunt for Red October”). Its environments and action sequences are likely to remind viewers of John Ford films such as “The Searchers” and more recent westerns such as Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.”
This movie pulls no punches. These are characters who are suffering — some from their past, some from events that are far too recent. Pike in particular is moving as a woman who struggles to find a reason to go on. Bale, as always, is wonderful as the bitter, conflicted protector of someone he loathes — we can see his inner struggles reflected on his face. Studi, whose character speaks little, communicates with subtle gestures in a terrific performance.
I can’t emphasize enough that this movie is rated “R.” The first scene is one of the most graphically violent you’ll ever see, and violence explodes on the screen from time to time after that. That means this is not for children, nor is it for audiences used to “PG-13”-rated films.
Incidentally, I saw this film before the Oscar nominations were announced, and I was disappointed how neglected this movie was. It was released in some theaters in late 2017, and I still consider it to be one of the finest films of last year.