I love it when a good Western comes out every few years. They're incredibly hard to make any money on, especially in foreign markets. So I appreciate it when studios take a chance on them. Hostiles was independently produced, and that's an even braver prospect, and though it looks like it will be hard to make a profit on the film anytime soon, I sure am glad it was made.
Hostiles stars Christian Bale as Captain Joseph J. Blocker, who in 1892 is given one last order before retirement, to escort Yellow Hawk, a sick and imprisoned Cheyenne Chief and his family, from Fort Berringer in New Mexico, back to his homelands in Montana, so that he may die there. Both are veterans of battles against each other, so there is no love lost between the two. Along the way, they pick up Rosalie Quaid, who recently survived a brutal attack against her homestead by a group of Apaches.
This is a wonderfully intriguing premise. The traveling group has struggles within itself, but also has to work together to face gruesome threats along the way. This isn't a typical story structure because there is no one, main antagonist. There are a set of obstacles, and that's fine. The most significant battle, in fact, is between the main characters and their inner demons who struggle to take them over as horrific memories of a brutal past become too much for the mere humans to bear.
This is a violent film, though some of the most satisfying scenes simply suggest extreme violence. It's also a film about redemption, not only of individuals but of a nation. There are few glimmers of hope in this bleak world, though when they do come, when these characters fight themselves to win forgiveness, it's incredibly satisfying.
Christian Bale was the perfect choice for the lead, though the acting is solid throughout.
My main complaint with the film is in the production/post style. The look doesn't pop. The resolution isn't extremely high, and the colors are washed out a bit, which is the exact opposite look I'd go for in an exterior Western epic. Though there isn't a ton of camera movement, the few pans and zooms did annoy me. Having just watched The Hateful Eight, which was shot on 70mm, the look of that Western, even on my 1080P television, looked far superior to Hostiles in the theatre.
It's not a deal killer though. I'd definitely suggest seeing Hostiles on the big screen. I think the lack of a typical antagonist might make it a bit unsatisfying for some. But for those who dig heavy internal conflicts, especially when portrayed by very talented actors, Hostiles will deliver right up until the last scene, a scene which was so satisfying for me—a brilliant end to such a long, tortured journey.
Jon David Rosten, author of
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