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article imageReview: ‘Hostiles’ weaves a complex story in an equally complex setting Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 19, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Hostiles’ begins as a standard Western before taking audiences on a dangerous journey beyond which lies a lot of death and previously unthinkable understanding.
The United States of America is a country born from conflict, so it’s not surprising that many of the films set in the 19th century reflect the countless struggles experienced by people gaining and losing land. In Westerns there’s frequently a backdrop of war, but also clashes with the indigenous people, which contribute to the tense, and generally violent, atmosphere. However, it’s not often that these encounters are used to tell a story in which an aggressive character evolves, gaining depth and respect as the narrative unfolds. Hostiles is one of these rarities, taking audiences through a perilous journey of racism and redemption.
Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is a decorated and esteemed army captain. He’s ready to put his uniform away — except before he does, his superior gives him one final task: to safely escort Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family to their home. This assignment appals Blocker as he’s fought and lost many men to the local tribes, including a lasting conflict with Yellow Hawk, who’s been their prisoner for several years – and now he’s essentially been asked to protect and chaperon his enemy. But an order is an order, so he sets out with some of his most trusted men to return the dying chief and his kin to their land. There are many surprises along the way, including the discovery of a female survivor (Rosamund Pike) of a horrific attack and an enlightening reunion better left buried.
This is far from a typical Western, even though many of the players are the same. It begins rather typically with the soldiers and indigenous people on opposite sides of the fence, glaring at each other suspiciously and scornfully in spite of having a shared destination. Even when it seems there’s no other choice, Blocker tries his best to avoid a partnership with his wards as it’s an affront to everything for which he believes he stands. But there are far worse things to confront on their journey than hurt egos or compromised principles, including indiscriminately murderous Comanche, a deranged soldier and territorial cowboys.
Encountering the frontier widow rather early on in their expedition provides audiences with their first real glimpse of Blocker’s decency. Her plight is chronicled earlier in the film, so viewers are not surprised by the scene on which the soldiers come across; though her position is still tragic. A lot of screen time is devoted to her and everyone’s attempt to help her cope with the terrible events she’s endured, demonstrating the humanity of both parties in a time of need.
As their journey grows more treacherous, they’re forced to become a singular unit — and the little respect Blocker and Yellow Hawk had for each other gradually increases. In spite being a very slow drama set mostly in the undeveloped plains, the narrative captures audiences’ attention with its quiet intensity and explosive confrontations. Moreover, the casting is excellent. Bale gives one of his best performances as the conflicted captain, forced into this situation that will have an unexpectedly profound effect on him. And even though they selected a Brit for the American role, the indigenous characters are fittingly portrayed by exceptional indigenous actors, including Studi, Adam Beach, Q'orianka Kilcher and Tanaya Beatty.
Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi
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