There are a lot of reasons to be disappointed by Scott Cooper’s Hostiles. Firstly, it’s simply a mediocre film, stuffed with filler dialogue and a surfeit of slow-motion closeups substituting for any real character development. Secondly, it wastes a profoundly talented cast who are all putting in good work. Thirdly, and this may well be the failure that leaves the most lasting impression, it’s yet another “wilderness journey” western that does a huge injustice to its indigenous characters.
Despite the fact that the story ostensibly revolves around Native Americans – US Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is charged with returning dying Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) – Hostiles doesn’t give its native characters three-dimensional humanity. They’re either terrifying, unstoppable savages or airily wise on a cosmic scale, with any and all believability added only by the sterling efforts of the actors.
Hostiles is definitely Scott Cooper’s most ambitious film, a violent trek through 1890s America, and he opens with a thrilling scene of shocking violence, kicking things off at a galloping pace that he can’t maintain. All the bloodshed is well executed, particularly in the tense buildup to any battle or raid, but these pulse-raising moments are too few and far between. Most of the time is spent with forgettable, expendable soldiers on a generic quest that leaves little room for memorable characters. Bale is on good form, subtler than usual, and Rosamund Pike gives a standout performance as bereaved mother Rosalie Quaid, but they’re often stymied by weak, predictable writing.
Not a lot in Hostiles really works, and the stuff that does has been done a lot better. Its wild scenery pales in comparison to that of The Revenant or Slow West, and for a consistently entertaining Christian Bale action-western, there’s always James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma.
CAST: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster, Q’Orianka Qilcher, Stephen Lang, Timothée Chalamet
DIRECTOR: Scott Cooper
WRITERS: Scott Cooper, Donald E Stewart
SYNOPSIS: In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.