Well this is rare. A western. Sounds like a good deal, as a decade ago, both Christian Bale and Ben Foster starred in the amazing 3:10 TO YUMA (2007). So hey, count me in. Hey, internet, make a fan theory on how these two movies are related! No matter how far fetched!
The story looks like it’s about a veteran soldier who made a career off of hunting Native Americans and is tasked with escorting a Native American prisoner, or otherwise very important person, somewhere and he really doesn’t want to do it due to his hatred for their kind. Looks like he’s gotta prevent his people from breaking their boy out of his binds, wrestling with what’s right and wrong about his hatred with some religious undertones, among a slew of other obstacles, both physical and spiritual.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Christian Bale (THE PROMISE , THE BIG SHORT , THE DARK KNIGHT , and upcoming BACKSEAT  and MOWGLI ), Rosamund Pike (A UNITED KINGDOM , and upcoming films 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE  and BEIRUT ), and Wes Studi (A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST , MYSTERY MEN , and upcoming films A DOG’S WAY HOME  and DUKE CITY ).
In support, we have Ben Foster (INFERNO , BANG BANG YOU’RE DEAD , and upcoming films LEAVE NO TRACE  and GAVESTON ), Jesse Plemons (THE POST , BLACK MASS , and upcoming films GAME NIGHT  and THE IRISHMAN ), John Benjamin Hickey (FOREVER MY GIRL , TALLULAH , PITCH PERFECT , and the upcoming MAPPLETORPE ), Stephen Lang (DON’T BREATHE , AVATAR , and upcoming films BRAVEN  and MORTAL ENGINES ), and Timothée Chalamet (LADY BIRD , CALL ME BY YOUR NAME , and upcoming films A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK  and BEAUTIFUL BOY ).
Now for the crew. Directing and… possibly co-writing is Scott Cooper, known for BLACK MASS and OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013). Here’s where my confusion as to the “co-writing” comes from. Donald E. Stewart is credited with “manuscript” and I’m not entirely sure what that means. In all the two years I’ve been doing this and writing down as many writers I have, I’ve never seen a “manuscript” credit. Maybe I wrote the first draft and Cooper did future drafts? Eh, I’m already dropped Stewart’s name, so… he’s known for THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990). Jeez, a man who’s known for a majority of the Jack Ryan films, he randomly does a western? That’s kinda funny. Eh, a little shake up of things is never a bad thing. Composing the score is Max Richter, known for THE SENSE OF AN ENDING (2017), MISS SLOANE (2016), MORGAN (2016), and the upcoming WHITE BOY RICK (2018). The cinematographer is Masanobu Takayanagi, known for SPOTLIGHT (2015). Finally, the editor is Tom Cross, known for THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017), LA LA LAND (2016), JOY (2015), and the upcoming FIRST MAN (2018).
Overall, this looks like it’s ripe for great and complex characters with some solid looking action and writing. I predict that it’s going to end in Bale’s character learning that the Natives aren’t so bad and his charge will learn that there are some good white men out there, but that almost seems too cliché. I doubt it’ll go in that direction, but I guess I’ll just have to see it to find out.
This is my honest opinion of: HOSTILES
Set in 1892. Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), a soldier with a famous dislike toward all Native Americans, has just been given new orders from the President of the United States to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief named Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their home in Montana, the Valley of the Bears. Thing is, Joe and Yellow Hawk have history and they don’t like each other much, both responsible for the deaths of respective friends and kin. Reluctantly, he accepts the assignment, traversing the land, trying to stay alive from blood-thirsty Apache and other threats along the way.
While it’s got its flaws here and there, this was a pretty damn good western.
The movie starts off giving you exactly what kind of ride you’re in for. The brutal and gruesome death of a woman’s family, including that of her infant son, and the scalping of her not quite dead yet husband, all at the hands of Apache Native Americans. Actually, come to think of it, I think that’s the most brutal the movie gets. Not to say that there isn’t more violence, as there’s plenty of blood to go around, but the opening sequence is the worst of the violence.
At a glance, I was a little concerned about the way the Natives would be portrayed, like they’d be the straight up bad guys of the film. But the movie wisely shows that the white men aren’t much better. Joe has a nasty reputation of being just as brutally violent toward his Native adversaries. Again, at a glance, I thought this was going to be one of those movies that basically showcases nothing but despicable people, and the rest of the movie would show their humanity and they’d eventually set aside their differences. As it turns out, yeah, that’s right on the money. It’s about Joe thinking that all Natives are blood-thirsty dick-wads and his own savagery was a result of his work, not his very nature.
Let me tell you, Bale nails this role. Pitch perfect, beat for beat. Joe is immediately an asshole and dislike him. But then in a following scene, we see a little humanity. It’s easy to judge him outright as a jerk, but it’s easy to forget that he’s a product of his time and environment. He’s been fighting against Natives of all different backgrounds and each of them has been responsible for the deaths of good soldiers and, specifically Yellow Hawk, the deaths of friends. I imagine at the time, the Natives and the whites were still unknowns to each other, no true understanding of each other’s lives and the Natives were still fighting for dominance over the land that was initially theirs to begin with. Point being, we understand why Joe has such a prejudice against Yellow Hawk and his family and why he doesn’t want anything to do with their journey home. Despite his quiet demeanor, Bale’s expressions speak volumes. Every glance at any given character, you know exactly what’s going through his mind. He looks at the soldiers beneath him, you see pride. He looks at Tommy (Rory Cochran), he’s looking at his best friend of many years. He looks at Rosalie (Rosamund Pike), he sees a fragile woman who needs protection. He looks at Yellow Hawk and any of his family, you see red in his eyes. You see total apathy, hell, you can practically taste the venom he has for these people, and Bale’s performance is top notch as always.
But if you thought Bale was the man of the hour, you’d be dead wrong. If there’s anyone that takes the cake, it’s Pike. Holy shit, this woman’s performance might be the most haunting I’ve ever seen out of her. After that opening sequence, and we get all the drama set up for Joe and Yellow Hawk, they eventually encounter Rosalie’s burnt homestead. What do we see, you may ask? Fuck, dude, her dead husband is still outside where the Apache killed him, her daughters are perfectly laid straight on a bed with no mattress, a blanket over their bodies, one hand on one of her daughters, as if to comfort her, and in the other arm, still cradling her dead infant’s body wrapped in its bloodied blanket, telling the soldiers in her most nonchalant-traumatized voice to keep quiet as her children are sleeping. Jesus… fuck. Not gonna lie, this sequence kind of fucked me up. I’m shocked I managed to get sleep that night. There’s actually a shit load more that she does that’s really messed up, but I don’t want to give everything away. Take my word for it, this movie’s worth the price of admission for Pike alone.
The rest of the cast does pretty well too. Studi as War Hawk adds some class to the film as the wise, compassionate, and borderline fearsome former warrior chief, who only wants to help the soldiers fight the Apache. Hell, it’s a wonder why he even bothered asking for a weapon, as when the Apache do attack, he gets a kill count with nothing but a trampling horse and the very shackles that are supposed to hold him back. Pretty bad-ass if you ask me. Plemons as Lt. Kidder has a pretty good scene, talking about his first combat kill with Tommy. The action scenes are well done, easy to make out, great drama, great emotions, it’s all a very well done film for the most part.
But there’s a reason why I say, “for the most part.” So let’s tackle the flaws. To be fair, the issues that I have are pretty small, but there’s still a few of them.
In the beginning, there’s a scene between Joe and Tommy and how they reminisce about their glorious younger days. At some point, Tommy speaks in exposition: basically laying out Joe’s achievements and notable career shit in an obvious ploy to show just how brutal he can be. It’s unnecessary because we already saw him overlooking his soldiers harassing an Apache dude that gets horse-dragged. I don’t think the audience needs to know his greatest hits that we never see.
Much as I gush at Pike’s performance, there is only one moment where I’m taken out of the moment. In a pivotal scene where she’s attempting to bury her family, she starts giving out a traumatic scream, finally acknowledging her family’s deaths. Thing is, that screaming was… more awkward than haunting. It’s like she’s trying to scream bloody murder, but she’s consciously holding herself back, almost like it was a rehearsal take. Does anyone else feel that way about that moment?
And other issues include a random heart-to-heart scene between Joe and Corporal Henry (Jonathan Majors). It’s like, they apparently have history, but before this scene, they don’t really interact. The friendship has always been between Joe and Tommy. Foster’s character Sgt. Wills feels like a side quest character that didn’t add much, which is a shame because Foster is an unbelievably awesome actor. But bet you a pound to a penny that they made 3:10 TO YUMA reunion jokes. There’s a document in the movie that has the President’s orders that’s supposed to be a free pass to safely traverse lands and what have you… it means absolutely nothing. More horrible shit happens to Rosalie and I can’t help but wonder if it was necessary for her character. And there’s a forced romance between Joe and Rosalie. Not that I know how long this journey of theirs takes, but unless it took months, which wouldn’t be obvious, I don’t think a romance should have blossomed between them.
Overall, the film’s really well done. Very engaging, great acting, awesome action, it continues the trend of rare, but quality western movies. I recommend this, if you can still find it in theaters. If not, then a very strong recommendation for a rental. It’s no movie of the year, but it’s worth the time. We are all… very happy with this movie.
My honest rating for HOSTILES: 4/5