Cinematic Releases: Hostiles (2018) - Reviewed

On the surface, Hostiles contains in it all of the elements needed to make a compelling Western. Actors like Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike, and Jesse Plemons have all been known to give strong performances, this film being no exception to that rule. The trailer is littered with gorgeous shots of the American frontier and epic gun battles with the film's story promising a deep dive into the social dynamics of the era. It is on this last point that Hostiles falls short. 

Set in the American west of 1892, Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is tasked with escorting dying Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from Fort Berringer, New Mexico, back to his homeland in Wyoming, as an act of good faith by the United States. Due to years of war with Native Americans, the captain expresses reluctance at this task. His ultimate acceptance being forced upon him at the threat of losing his retirement pension. Along the road, the captain and his company stumble upon a shocked and blood spattered Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) recovering from her own traumatic experience. 

It is with Mrs. Quaid that any substantive character development ends. Other than Captain Blocker, Mrs. Quaid is the only character to receive any kind attention by writer/director Scott Cooper. Yellow Hawk, who's face is shown as being parallel to that of Captain Joseph Blocker on the film's poster, does not even speak until 40 or so minutes into the film and even then his lines are short. I would even go so far as to say Hostiles ignores the Native Americans of the film, using them mostly as props and only calling upon them when it conveniently needs to insert a line of “Native wisdom” here and there. While the pain of the white American characters is shown to the audience in gut-wrenching detail, the experience of their Native counterparts is only referred to through dialogue. Robbing the audience of the empathy needed in order to drive home the film's point. Furthermore, the film has some glaring historical inaccuracies. The Comanche, who are the primary villains of the film, were already living in reservations by 1892. In addition, the Comanche and the Cheyenne were known to be allies dating back to as early as 1840. 

To the film's credit, the action sequences are thrillingly brutal. The film definitely “goes there” in terms of the violence, providing the audience with a more realistic view into what the gun battles and fight scenes of the times were actually like. If you are sensitive to this kind of cinema, I would advise skipping this film. This is not the sugar coated wild west of John Wayne's era. The characters of Hostiles are not safe from any form of violence, even it's women and children. 

Overall, if you are looking for a merciless and bloodthirsty western, Hostiles will leave you feeling satisfied. However, if you want this savageness to be met with an equally deep and dynamic story you will be somewhat disappointed, as this film, like so many westerns, still mostly adheres to the one-sided stereotypical story telling. 

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-Dawn Stronski