NOTHING TO DO WITH ELI ROTH
Movie Review – Hostiles
Review by Paul Preston
Scott Cooper has always been an impressive film director. His films Crazy Heart, Black Mass and Out of the Furnace feature top-notch talent and tell edgy stories. He directed Johnny Depp to high accolades and Jeff Bridges to his first Oscar win. With Hostiles, Cooper steps out from the “impressive” moniker to deliver a movie directed with full-on excellence.
Hostiles re-teams Cooper with Furnace star Christian Bale, who plays Capt. Joseph Blocker, a U.S. soldier in 1892 harboring a passionate hatred for Indians. He’s still nursing the scars of multiple battles with Indian nations and haunted by the deaths of many of his friends at their hands. Against his strong objection, his superior, played by the always-welcome Stephen Lang, assigns him the task of escorting terminally ill Chief Yellow Hawk, played by the always-welcome Wes Studi, and his family, across the vast expanse of the Western U.S. so Yellow Hawk can peacefully die in his homeland.
Blocker’s hatred of Indians reminded me of John Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards in the excellent western classic, The Searchers. We live in a time of riskier and more intense movies than the era of Searchers director John Ford, and that’s evidenced in the difference between Wayne and Bale’s performances. Wayne’s Edwards is a unique take on the classic cowboy, showing shades of unilkeability and racism. It’s a great performance, especially for Wayne, adding depth to the stalwart plainsman he made famous. Bale’s performance is of this era, and it sits well within his skills – dark, wracked with pain, holding back an enormous amount of anger that could boil over at any minute (and his expressions are oft hidden by droopy, emotionless facial hair). Bale is predictably committed and excellent.
Joining him is Rosamund Pike in a performance The Academy would be wise to notice. She plays a mother overwhelmed with grief in the wake of losing family members murdered by Comanches. The scenes from the top of the film through the early parts of her joining Bale’s traveling crew are volatile and riveting. She is channeling some seriously murky and gloomy depths to so authentically portray someone stunned by bereavement and the result is remarkable.
Not as much is being asked of Studi, other than to be weak yet noble, and he’s up to the task. Supporting performances that stand out include Rory Cochrane as one of Bale’s trusted soldiers. He adds a level of sadness and uncertainty to the mission. Jesse Plemons continues a streak of good work here and just when everything seems calm, Ben Foster shows up to throw a bit of upheaval into the mix because he’s AWESOME at that.
The remaining adventure is a series of predicaments, really. They run into these shady characters, they run into those shady characters, they run into more tribal warriors, and the characters’ relationships are strained. Downside? This movie is BLEAK. There is a wagon train’s worth of death going on here and little humor to lighten the load (don’t get too attached to all of the characters…). This film succeeds at taking itself seriously and delivering the seriousness without a tonal slip-up.
From beginning to end, Cooper delivers the story with a confident, adult tone and a creative team that backs him up nicely. Jenny Eagan’s costumes are genuine and lived-in and production designer Donald Graham Burt (frequent Fincher collaborator) gives up the goods in terms of the vastness and desolateness of the American west. DP Masanobu Takayanagi has shot films like Spotlight and Silver Linings Playbook in striking fashion, but hasn’t painted pictures with quite the grandeur he brings to Hostiles. It’s a constant reminder that the beauty of the Earth deserves better than the people populating it. They’re all hostiles.
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Release Date: January 26, 2018
Run Time: 134 Minutes
Distributor: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures