Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and Capt. Blocker (Christian Bale) find a way to respect each other in Hostiles. (Elevation Pictures image)

Reel Reviews: Hostiles change or die

We say, “Hostiles is brutal and ugly, but not without mercy and beauty.

Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) has been charged with the transfer of a dying prisoner and former combatant, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his home in Montana, by order of the President.

On the journey through the dangerous American frontier, the party is joined by a distraught woman (Rosamund Pike) having just had her family murdered in front of her.

In a brutal world we are all Hostiles.

We say, “Hostiles is brutal and ugly, but not without mercy and beauty.”

HOWE: I really enjoyed this movie. It isn’t perfect by any means but it has been a very long time since we have seen a western. It is a beautiful looking film with its backdrop, coupled with sparse dialogue it made for an interesting watch. It is not packed with action or lots of fighting but relies more on relationships and respect of all the parties involved. When the fighting does start though it is done with class and finesse, not at ninety miles per hour, blurred and so close that you cannot see anything. To me it felt like an old school western but with up to date acting skills.

TAYLOR: This film starts with a massacre of a frontier household, like Once Upon a Time in the West, or The Searchers, or many other fine westerns. The brutal, unforgiving landscape and weather, coupled with human confrontation makes for intense drama. Hostiles isn’t a film about forging civilization out of wilderness, it’s about the human condition and the types of feelings that spur men and women into action. It’s also about soldiering, in that Captain Blocker doesn’t necessarily agree or disagree with what he does, it’s just his job. The bulk of the story is about the Captain’s dealing with his feelings about his job and then his sense of service to the woman he helps along the way.

HOWE: The acting by all involved is of a very high standard, even Bale was okay in this, but special praise must go to Pike. I thought some of her performances in this were very good, the anguish and facial expressions by her in some of the scenes felt real — I have never seen that by her before.

TAYLOR: This is a sad movie about a violent world, almost everyone dies and the senselessness of it is palpable. Nothing is ever explained to the audience, except that the killing of natives by the government is an experienced enterprise, so entrenched in the psyche of both sides that murder is routine. It is no less powerful or damaging, it’s just commonplace. This makes for a brutal, sad movie, but it’s a well made film, effective, moving, contemplative. It also has a quiet brilliance that sparkles behind the exhausted eyes of its two main characters and a tidy ending. The final shot of the film is entirely an expression of hope for the future. Perhaps it’s the best gestural film ending in a long time. I could see why audiences might think Hostiles is a bummer, but it’s just an excellent movie about an ugly time, still fresh in our long memories.

Howe gives Hostiles 4.5 tobacco gifts out of 5.

Taylor gives it 5 covered wagons out of 5.

– Brian Taylor and Peter Howe are film reviewers based in Vernon, B.C.

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