Scott Cooper’s Hostiles tells the story of characters who are at a crossroads in their lives. Starting with Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) who has spent a lifetime in the military seen and done his share of butchery but now rests reading books. One of his right-hand men, Master Sargent Thomas Metz is also on the tail end of his career. He drinks way too much and has had his guns taken from him as a result. He quietly remembers the old days when the two of them would do all kinds of savagery. Colonel Abraham Biggs (Steven Lang) gives Blocker his last assignment. Escort a dying Indian, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their land where he can die in peace.
At first, Blocker flat out refuses. He and Chief Yellow Hawk have a history and Blocker would just as soon kill the Chief than to escort him anywhere. When his pension is threatened, Blocker reluctantly agrees. He now has a few men under his command, the Chief and his family with a trek from New Mexico to Montana. Miles of the hostile countryside with just about any and every kind of threat imaginable is waiting for them. Along the way, they pick up a grieving woman named Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) and she will be a vital member of Blocker’s team.
Hostiles was written and directed by Scott Cooper based on a manuscript written by Donald E. Stewart and it is well written with very rich characters in Blocker and Quaid and that is the crux of this film, for me. Wes Studi’s Chief Yellow Hawk is not really given much to do except look sick and cough occasionally to remind us that he is dying. He does what the role requires but they have underdeveloped his character to the detriment of the story. But fortunately, Rosamund Pike and Christian Bale deliver a powerhouse of emotion and humanity to the film which works more often than not.
There are scenes of violence that are quite grisly and no one is spared not even young children and or babies. Cooper does a great job of showing the brutality of the frontier without exploiting it. But Cooper’s pacing is off and there are long stretches in which nothing really happens. The supporting cast is decent which includes Ben Foster as a disgraced soldier, Pete Mullan as an officer who is good friends with Blocker. Adam Beach, Xavier Horsechief, Q’orianka Kilcher and Tanaya Beatty are the rest of the family of Chief Yellow Hawk and they are all excellent but not really given much depth. Jesse Plemons and Rory Cochran (who both worked with Scott Cooper in his film Black Mass about gangster Whitey Bulger which also starred Johnny Depp as Whitey).
But the real story is between Blocker and Quaid and there is plenty of material there that it kept me involved even though some of the pacing did not. Bale (who worked with Cooper in Out of the Furnace) comes ready to play and he is terrific as Blocker, a man who is unapologetic for his past but it clearly bothers him, regardless how many times he tries to push it away. Which brings me to Rosamund Pike as Rosalie Quaid. Without divulging her story you will quickly find out her background and let me just say there are scenes in which you will be hard-pressed to not shed a tear for her. Her acting is fabulous and she will break your heart. She should be nominated for an Academy Award but sadly she was not. The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi is as starkly shot as the terrain looks and it helps drive home the idea that these were perilous times. Max Richter’s score is equally bleak but effective in enhancing the ensuing dangers that await the team.
Overall, Scott Cooper is showing he is a fine writer and director, having directed a different array of films from gangster pictures, heavy dramas, westerns and even a light-hearted, romantic musical of sorts, Crazy Heart which garnered an Oscar for Jeff Bridges in 2009. He knows what he wants to accomplish and tends to shy away from big studio budgeted films for more independent fare and he has done a fine job thus far. I just wish they had fleshed out some of the supporting characters more in Hostiles and kept the pacing up a bit but otherwise, Hostiles is a dark, moody effective character study of people who are all experiencing loss in one form or another and on that level, Hostiles works and works well, indeed.
Hostiles – **** out of 5
Hostiles – Rated R for graphic violence, gore and language
Hostiles – Runtime is 134 minutes
Hostiles is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.