Starring: Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike
Director: Scott Cooper
Mood: If you’ve had an awesome week and are feeling super emotionally strong so it’s time to watch an absolutely outstanding but extremely dark Western that you can’t watch on any other night because you’d end up going to bed all haunted and sad.
I’ve never considered myself a Christian Bale fan.
Everyone’s always like “he’s the best Batman!”, and I’m that weirdo who prefers Adam West followed closely by Michael Keaton. Hostiles sat on my shelf for EIGHT F*CKING MONTHS before I finally watched it, because I never felt in the mood for a Christian Bale movie.
But after seeing 3:10 to Yuma and Hostiles in close succession, I would 100% fork over money to watch all future Bale Westerns on the big screen.
Hostiles is set in New Mexico, 1892. The first thing that happens is a woman (Rosalee Quaid, played by Rosamund Pike) watches her husband, two young daughters, and baby boy get gunned down as they try to flee a Comanche raid on their homestead. You watch her hiding under a rock, clutching her dead baby to her chest, drenched in blood, and her eyes say that her spirit is completely broken.
This movie is not messing around. My first thought was, “shit, where is there left to go after that?”. I can’t even count how many times in the first 20 minutes I whispered “what the actual f*ck” – whispered, because I was in too much shock to yell at the screen.
Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) is finishing rounding up an Apache tribe. He watches impassively, eating a piece of fruit, as an Apache woman screams while her husband is lassoed and dragged behind a horse. But then he gets ordered to escort captured Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family home so the chief, who has cancer, can pass away in his homeland.
Blocker’s reaction reveals a terrible hate for Native people, Chief Yellow Hawk in particular, from having seen his Army friends chopped into pieces too small to be buried. But orders are orders, so Blocker chooses a group of men to ride with him on the journey.
They stumble upon the burnt-out house of the widow Quaid, and she’s singing to her dead children whom she’s put into their beds. Blocker brings her with the troop. Now you have an Army captain escorting a Native family, whom he hates, and a broken widow (who is terrified of Natives) through the treacherous territory of Comanches – who hate everyone.
Hostiles is the kind of Western that needs to be seen. At times it’s extremely uncomfortable, due to the racist dialogue and treatment of the Apache characters. But we can’t pretend that this shit didn’t happen, and isn’t still happening.
I wondered if the way some of the characters came to respect each other was realistic. You do hear about unlikely groups coming together in desperate situations. BUT, apparently the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) ‘applauded Hostiles‘ for its authentic representation of Native Peoples and accurate rendition of the Northern Cheyenne dialect, which is fantastic.
The movie’s title is absolutely perfect, because every ethnic group sees at least one of the others as hostile. And they’ve all committed hostilities against each other’s people.
Rosamund Pike is breathtaking in this movie. It’s already dark and difficult to watch with Bale’s character, but as soon as Pike’s Rosalee is brought back into the plot, she’s the one to watch in every scene. She delivers these visceral reactions that you can feel in your bones, and she can evoke so many different emotions with just her eyes. I would LOVE to see her in more Westerns.
Bale is also brilliant as Capt. Blocker. This is the most layered performance I’ve ever seen from him. He made his character angry, haunted, broken, strong, AND tender, all at once. He seems mostly tough until they find Rosalee, and then you suddenly see tremendous compassion and softness that surfaces again when he has to say goodbye to one of his men.
There’s this gut-wrenching scene near the beginning where he goes out into a field and just screams and screams, illustrating the effects of war on mental health. It’s striking on so many levels. And he’s rocking the thickest, most massive moustache I’ve seen since Kurt Russell in Tombstone.
Wes Studi’s performance as Chief Yellow Hawk is quietly powerful. This is an actor who has done everything from The Doors and Comanche Moon to idiotic comedies like Mystery Men and A Million Ways to Die in the West. In Hostiles he makes your heart ache as he tries to be strong for his family while his advice is ignored by Blocker and his health is rapidly failing.
It’s a shame that the chief’s son, Black Hawk (Adam Beach) didn’t have more of a role. You get to see more of his talent in Cowboys & Aliens and Comanche Moon. He did a lot with what he had, though. I actually had a crush on Beach as Kickin’ Wing in Joe Dirt. I told you, I’m weird.
Another standout for me was Jonathan Majors as Henry Woodson. His character is a Black man in the U.S. Army, having to separate his duty from his empathy for a race being crushed by white people. Every time they cut to him, you can see this great conflict on his face.
Master Sgt. Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane) is the other character who made me ugly cry the most. He makes you feel everything he’s feeling as his mind recoils at what he’s done and what is happening, and it’s so painful to watch.
And then you have Ben F*cking Foster. Once again, playing the disgusting creep, and playing it so well that you immediately wish for his death. Can you imagine if that was your typecast? Like some actors are always given ditzy roles, or romantic leads, or action heroes. Ben Foster is the resident creepy asshole.
The thing about Hostiles is that literally every actor in every role, even the small ones, is fantastic. They make you cringe and hurt and hope and despair, and it’s a f*cking exhausting emotional journey for a weekday evening.
The cinematography is also really well done. You get these impressive scenic shots with lightning storms and so much open country, and a dark film quality that goes perfectly with the mood. The score is also gorgeous.
I would watch Hostiles many more times, even though it gutted me, because of the tremendous acting. But next time I’ll wash off my mascara before the movie starts.