One genre I’ve lacked in reviewing on my blog is the almighty Western flick. I blame this on the lack of widely released Western films being made. Other than The Magnificent Seven, which felt more like a comedy than a traditional Western, there haven’t been many serious mainstream Western movies in recent years. With the new release of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, Western fans can finally quench their thirst.
Christian Bale stars as the battle-hardened Joseph J. Blocker, a U.S. Calvary officer tasked with returning a Cheyenne family to their home in Montana. Along the way, Blocker and company face deadly Comanche warriors, merciless fur traders, and other roadblocks that threaten to end their important mission. Full of great performances and visuals, Hostiles deals with themes and revelations about death and forgiveness.
I was conflicted throughout the first half of Hostiles, mostly in contemplation over what point the film was trying to get across. It dabbled in many different themes and ideas, teetering between kind of clever and been there done that. It wasn’t until about halfway through the film that it became clear to me it was saying. And it carried a message I appreciated quite a lot.
Hostiles is all about death, what it means to be a soldier (or in some cases, a killer), and what it means to forgive and be forgiven. In this sense I liken Hostiles to one of the best modern Western films around, Unforgiven.
While our protagonists first appear to be the typical machismo Western heroes, deep down their actions have left them scarred and frail. Some soldiers even claiming that they simply “don’t feel anything” anymore. They feel sorrow for their crimes, and in many ways, attempt to redeem themselves through their actions.
Also, on a more subtle note, the protagonists must face a changing world. What was once considered permissible (like the extreme maltreatment of Indian tribes) is now being condemned, forcing them to come to terms with their wrongdoings. Even the main plot of the film is something that all the soldiers object to in the beginning, due to their complex and violent history with Indian tribes.
Hostiles definitely has its dry spells. And when moments got slow, I really felt the film drag. Most of this was due to the film’s rough start, where the narrative was pretty scattershot and had no direction or purpose.
The excellent cinematography and powerful performances (particularly from Bale) made Hostiles a great throwback to a genre that doesn’t get much mainstream love anymore. The film wanders off course from time to time (especially in the first half), but eventually it comes around to a highly satisfying climax and conclusion that Western fans are sure to like.
The Verdict: B+