Hostiles Movie Review
Hostiles would be a lot less brutal if anyone in the movie had even an ounce of survival instinct and attempted to take cover or run instead of standing there like idiots as bullets start flying. Seriously, in the hard-hitting opening scene, those poor girls might have fared okay had they not stood in an open field for minutes screaming.
Christian Bale stars as a hardened captain in New Mexico in 1892. After years of hunting down and killing Native Americans, he is tasked with escorting one of his old enemies (Wes Studi, or as I’ll always know him, Magua from Last of the Mohicans) to Montana so the old man can die in peace. Along the way he befriends a traumatized widow (Rosamund Pike) and encounters various stereotypical Old West villains.
Hostiles alternates between intense bursts of action and dramatic beats where every character talks really slowly and reminisces about the good old days when it was more socially acceptable to slaughter people. The movie chugs along in episodic fashion--truly, it feels like four episodes of a very bleak and humorless western TV series shoved together, each with a Villain of the Week. The bad Indians! Rapey fur traders! An escaped criminal! Evil ranchers!
And through it all, no one can take cover and dodge bullets.
Hostiles, from director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart), is generally well made, but it also comes off as a Revenant wannabe that isn’t nearly as good as it appears on the surface. The storytelling becomes a little repetitive - this is actually one western where I would have been content had there not been a final shootout, but of course there is one anyway - and even more concerning, the purpose or theme of the story is vague. The brutality and bleakness are merely masks for a fairly basic plot, and aside from Bale - who is pretty good but has been better elsewhere - the actors and characters don’t impress much.
Rosamund Pike over-acts throughout the movie to a distracting degree; her character, despite showing glimmers of being a great “strong female” role, is simply poorly written. Studi is resigned to an almost silent role as the calm “old wise Indian” stereotype, and frankly all of the “good” Native Americans are given very little to do. Given that the movie seems to be about overcoming old grievances and bonding over human similarities, it’s somewhat shocking that Cooper didn’t give his non-white characters equal weight.
If you like your westerns cold and grisly, Hostiles has a lot to offer. But don’t kid yourself that this is anything close to a masterpiece; while gritty and violent in places, the movie is merely okay, its full potential never realized.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.