HOSTILES is easily the best Western since Dances With Wolves. It also ranks as one of my favorite westerns of all time, including other films such as 3:10 To Yuma (the remake), True Grit (the remake & original), The Outlaw Josey Wales, Django Unchained, The Quick and The Dead and Unforgiven. While there are hundreds of movies of what is right and what is wrong, this film takes it to the next level by also exploring the deep darkness of grey in between. Christian Bale also gives his best performance since The Figher and may I even say it is up there as maybe his best performance ever for me. This western tale is gritty, its unpredictable, its journey is dark and takes you places you didn’t think you would go, it tugs at your heart strings and won’t let go, and the final shot left me with some choked back tears. It not just making me have to revise my top ten of 2017 list yet again, but it is also making me revise my western masterpiece list.
Since you most likely haven’t seen any promotional material for this film since it was picked up by a distributor so late and at the last minute to qualify for this year’s Academy Awards, let me give you a non spoiler-y run down: All you need to know is that its about a Army captain (Christian Bale) in 1892, that has had the job for the last little while, tracking down rogue Native Americans and jailing them in some fort stronghold. One of these is a Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) that has been jailed for 7 years and by the decree of the President of the United States, as a sort of public relations good faith sort of gesture, orders his release, and for Bale’s Army captain to escort him back to his original native land. Bale is reluctant to do it because this certain Cheyenne war chief and his tribe has killed many of his friends, but for the sake of his pension and future retirement, he does it anyway. He leads a group of troops to get the chief and his family back to his land and along the way picks up a woman who’s family was just slaughter by a rogue batch of Native Americans that show no mercy.
The movie is called Hostiles because mainly the dark path it takes is to show that hostility can come from anyone. Christian Bale’s character, although a good man, is deeply flawed, and his arc in this 2 hour and 15 minute film is not as predictable and you might imagine. Not everything is clear cut. His feelings for certain aspects of what is is doing changes, but he still remembers and respects his original intuitions. It’s not a full 180 character moral flip. His character is fully enveloped in that dark grey between right and wrong and Bale’s way of portraying this character as one trying to sort that grey out into something coherent is astonishingly masterful. Rosamund Pike also delivers one of her career best performances right alongside Gone Girl as that woman with PTSD the entire film of seeing her entire family slaughtered right before her eyes. All of her actions and reactions are painstakingly realistic.
This film is actually a pretty star studded affair. Ben Foster plays another devilish role that basically flashes a “HEY LOOK EVERYONE, WE WERE BOTH IN THAT AWESOME REMAKE 3:10 TO YUMA!” sign but not really as his role, while brief, is a little more complicated than that role in that other fantastic western. Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Chochran, Call Me By Your Name’s and Lady Bird’s Timothy Chalamet, Scott Wilson, and Stephen Lang round up the cast. And they all give fantastic performances. The cinematography in this western is amazing as well. The valleys, the mountains, the forests, the landscapes, all captured perfectly on camera to give you that feel you are out in the wilderness in 1892. Every single shot is breathtakingly beautiful to look at.
I love that this film is not just one plot, but multiple B, C, and even D plots as it goes. All of them tie in together quite harmoniously and bring the film to a brutal, calculated, yet unpredictable journey. The film is brutal when it needs to be and doesn’t over complicate or over saturate the plot with needless shots of blood, guts, or other cheap ways to make your stomach churn. Writer and Director Scott Cooper does a fantastic job to relay the right message about humanity without any cheap one-two punches that feel inauthentic to the audience. For example, there is some scalping in the film, but unlike Quentin Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds where it does a long close up take of the scalping to try and for a wince like emotion, here it is fast, to the point, and on to the next scene to show you why some men are savages and hostile.
I just love Hostiles. I was in love with it about 10 minutes in and was crossing my fingers that nothing else let me down. Thank goodness it didn’t. It’s unpredictability floored me to no end. Even though it is a slow boiler it kept my attention aptly for the entire run time. One think to know about me is I love Westerns. LOVE Westerns. Just something about that old time, with cowboys, native americans, shootouts, the vast valley of endless land, the setting that just keeps my attention and absorbs everything it has to offer. I know a lot of people out there that don’t like Westerns, and that is fine. But I encourage you to let go of your hostility and maybe give it a chance even though it isn’t your taste. But if you are like me and appreciate the once in a blue moon fantastic one like this, you are in for a treat.