Thursday, 18 January 2018

Hostiles Film Review

As we're in the middle of Awards Season I'm trying to review the movies I've seen, before the final awards are given out. I'll start with Hostiles, directed by Scott Cooper, and starring Christian Bale. He really has become a terrific actor since his childhood role in Empire of the Sun.

Set in 1892 we are in the middle of New Mexico with the Quaid pioneer family brutally attacked by Comanche Indians. Wife Rosamund Pike manages to escape with her baby as their home is set on fire.

Meanwhile the Union army is rounding up Indians to move them from their ancestral homes, and onto reservations. An Apache family is unwillingly brought to the local fort by Bale's Captain Joseph Blocker, where they are interned. And where the Colonel has a special task for Blocker, with Presidential approval. He is to take a Cheyenne Indian war chief back to his homeland of Montana with his family. After 7 years in the US jail he has been granted this concession as he is dying. Blocker who has been fighting throughout the Indian Wars, even with Custer, is against taking Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi, but is given no option by Stephen Lang's Colonel Abraham Biggs. Life is hard for a retired court marshalled Captain with no pension. Although we discover there were probably not many pensioners in the wild west.

The stellar handpicked team of men to undertake the trip includes Blocker's Sergeant, played by the very much alive!, but tortured soul of Rory Cochrane, a Corporal played by Jonathan Majors, a new West Point Lieutenant played by Jesse Plemons. And Timothée Chalamet as young Private Philippe DeJardin.

As soon as the press photos are taken their journey begins, and Blocker first has Yellow Hawk and son Black Hawk, played by Adam Beach, put in chains. Blocker and Yellow Hawk have been fighting each other for years. Yellow Hawk's wife Elk Woman and their daughter Moon Deer's plaits are undone as a perceived insult. Their family also includes young son Little Bear.

Not all of the party will survive in the vast openness of the West. A landscape we as viewers know so well, and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi pays due reverence to.

Across the plains they come across the charred remains of the homestead, with Mr Quaid dead outside, and find Rosalie Quaid still holding her dead baby, with her two girls dead in the bed. A traumatised woman she is gently helped to the makeshift camp, and the soldiers help her bury her family.

Yellow Hawk was a ferocious war chief and he warns Blocker that the Comanche are still out there, and will attack all of them. In chains he and his son are no help, but without them they could fight. When the Comanche do attack they use their chains to strangle some of the attackers. And after this skirmish Blocker realises that the party are relying on each other, and so he has their chains removed. An uneasy truce is developing.

Yellow Hawk's family show kindness to Rosalie, and their spirituality and stillness is awe inspiring after the savagery of the Comanche attackers in the first scenes. And they have a few helpful tricks up their sleeves, when Sergeant Metz falls asleep on watch.

As the party reaches Colorado, part way in their long trip, they stop for provisions and medical assistance at a tidy fort under the control of old friend Lt. Colonel Ross McCowan, played by Peter Mullan. The party are asked to take a disgraced sergeant, played by Ben Foster, on his way to the gallows, along with a couple of the Colonel's best men as his guards.

The dynamics change again as he is a friend of Blocker whose murder of an Indian family has signed his death warrant. Whereas Blocker, just as blood thirsty, is a decorated soldier. But Blocker reminds him that he was following orders. With this new psychopath as part of the group I was concerned for the little Indian family if he ever got free.

In the wild west life is cheap, women are commodities to be audaciously stolen away, and revenge is bloody work. But somewhere out there there is also humanity, and the film with it's slow and gentle rhythm explores this humanity. Indeed it is bloody, but no more than necessary.

I thought Wes Studi's noble depiction of the subdued and defeated Yellow Hawk was very impressive against Christian Bale's victory march. But as the latin reader of Julius Caesar, Blocker is finally able to lay his hatred to rest, and find a peace. And Rosamund Pike, although really too beautiful to be a frontiers woman, managed to portray a grief no woman should have to deal with.

A very impressive piece of work from the young Scott Cooper. With a score provided by Max Richter, who's work imagines a much older artist, and Ryan Bingham's dulcet tones and acting work on the film were tender moments.

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