The film Hostiles, directed by Scott Cooper, is a grizzly, throwback Western that brings some of the elements of early cowboy movies to the contemporary big screen. The film centers around the transportation of an imprisoned, dying chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), along with his family, by Union Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), who is accompanied by a handpicked battalion of soldiers, from Fort Berringer, New Mexico to Yellow Hawk’s homeland of Montana.
The film captures many of the elements that make the cowboy movies of the past great, but also is an allegory that represents many issues that are at the forefront today.
The film opens in a grisly way, setting the stage for external and internal struggles for both the Native Americans and the people who have settled on and continue to take their land. When Blocker, who nearing retirement, is tasked with transporting the convoy of Cheyennes, whom he despises, on the long journey, he is extremely displeased. As a soldier who has given everything for his country, he feels as though this is a backwards, if not futile, task that he should not have to endure. When he is backed into a wall by his superior officer, he insists that he must take his most trusted men, including his friend Thomas Metz (Roy Cochrane), with whom he often reminisces about their time together in their early days of service, Rudy Kiddor (Jesse Plemons), a recruit fresh out of West Point who always plays by the rules but has limited military service, and Corporal Henry Woodson (Jonathan Majors), a former Buffalo Soldier and a trusted flank for Blocker who is reliable and extremely adept.
While moving Yellow Hawk and his family, the group encounters Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), who is hiding from Comanche soldiers who have taken everything that she has. When Blocker sees her situation, he brings her along in hopes of getting her to safety when arriving at another fort along the way.
During the journey, Blocker begins to realize that his predispositions and experiences are not unlike those faced by many of the natives who have battled his people since the Europeans came to the continent. With much mistrust and apprehension, the group must band together to achieve a common goal of reaching Montana, thus allowing Blocker to finally get to his retirement and for Yellow Hawk and his family to get back to their homeland to have the chief live the rest of his life.
The journey is full of obstacles and skirmishes, with each character faced with their own strengths and weaknesses. The slow burn intensity keeps the movie suspenseful throughout. The characters have to look inside themselves and abandon preconceptions and realize that there are redeeming qualities to people whom they have hated for years before.
The film tackles some issues that have been in the forefront of the news in recent years. Post traumatic stress syndrome is something that plagues many characters throughout. Predispositions and prejudices about what is right and wrong are burdens on the majority of the characters for the duration.
The acting in the movie is great. Christian Bale, as always, does a masterful job of portraying Blocker. Adam Beach as Black Hawk, Yellow Hawk’s son, is very good as a fearless warrior in the movie. Majors, Plemons, and Cochrane also are very good characters. Q’orianka Kilcher as Elk Woman, Black Hawk’s wife, and Xavier Horsechief as Little Bear, their son, also are very good, believable characters. Each character brings their own element of importance to the film, and drives the plot along that never leaves the audience bored.
Hostiles is a very good western movie, but it does have its flaws. The film can be predictable at times, and the internal struggles of the characters never really drive any of the major plot points. The movement of a group of people through the Wild West will always be something that is intriguing and exciting, but the film falls short in really making the audience empathize with any of the characters. Hostiles is definitely worth seeing, but it doesn’t hold up with most of the best films of the genre.