Critic Consensus: Hostiles benefits from stunning visuals and a solid central performance from Christian Bale, both of which help elevate its uneven story.
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Critic Reviews for Hostiles
The journey is beautifully shot by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, but Bale's genius is wasted-he's often resigned to looking sullen and straining to recite the clunky dialogue.
It offers shreds of hope, something we can cling to even now.
By turns deliberative and chaotic, brutal and merciful, definitely bleak and just maybe hopeful, Hostiles could have ended with its penultimate scene, but it would have been a very different movie.
Bale does outstanding work, revealing unexpected depths of intelligence and sensitivity.
Audience Reviews for Hostiles
Well they don't make these anymore. "Cavalry movies" are a sub-genre of the larger Western genre. They were immensely popular from the 1940's through the early 60's. They revolved around the Indian Wars of the late nineteenth century, when the US Army moved to subjugate the remaining tribes living in the plains territories. The ideal force to pursue them was horse cavalry, hence the name of the genre. These movies revolved around the early stages when these conflicts were a bit more even, before infantry and artillery arrived and the destruction of the American Bison forced the remaining plains Indians into reservations. Cavalry films blended Westerns with war film and could be surprisingly reflective for their era. At its worst, grudging respect was given for native tenacity and Sioux martial prowess. And at its best, outright sympathy for a disappearing way of life could be coupled with frustration at Washington's often incompetent conduct, as was seen in John Ford's "Cavalry trilogy." It is considered a mostly dead genre, disappearing with Vietnam, modern revisionist views of Native Americans, and the changing nature of the American film industry in the wake of the collapse of the Golden Age studio system. The most recent major entry was Dances with Wolves which was an outright subversion of the genre, and Geronimo: An American Legend which attempted some commentary of its own. But it never quite got the full post-modern deconstruction that gunslinger Westerns received in the form of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven or the Civil War Western received in Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil. Yet that is what we get in Hostiles - a long hard look at a bygone era of film and it's unafraid to remain sympathetic to both sides. The plot centers on a decorated US Cavalry Captain (Christian Bale) who is tasked with the escort of a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family to their tribal lands. This is complicated by the fact that both are former bitter enemies. Along the way they fight with rogue Comanche and pick up a homesteader (Rosamund Pike), whose family they have slaughtered. Hostiles is a glacially-paced film with the wide vistas and quiet reflection you'd imagine from the description I have just given you. But it goes further with many of the characters being echoes of the stereotypes seen in the Westerns of yore. Many of them clearly suffer from PTSD and are breaking under the weight of their own guilt. And most simply want to die with some amount of dignity. The performances are all amazing, Bale and Pike's efforts being particularly noteworthy as both give earnest glimpses at survivor's guilt. But the supporting performances also floored me. Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Rory Cochrane, and Jesse Plemons all have their moments and subvert the stereotypes that lesser movies would have them inhabit. Hostiles has a minimalist score and steady cinematography in addition to decent writing. The last act goes a bit too far in its effort to eliminate characters - it does resemble a horror body count film by the end. Take from that what you will. This is not for everyone, but I'd imagine most of my friends would get something out of it. Older audiences in my theater expecting a friendly western came out quite horrified. So that means you should go see it.
I've never quite been able to grasp what it is about Scott Cooper's films that make them very good but not great. With all 4 of his feature films (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass, and now Hostiles) he has great scripts, talented actors, and a knack for directing hard hitting drama. But it's difficult to put my finger on what's missing from them. All of the aforementioned films I have given solid reviews too, but I've never been blown away by anything Cooper does. It could very well just be that he hasn't had his Oscar caliber film yet. But it also could be that his movies tend to lack one particularly important aspect, heart. Hostiles is a harsh take on the mostly dead genre of western filmmaking. I myself love a good western, as they often exemplify a good vs evil story that can rival the best that storytelling has to offer. And they're even better when the lines of good and evil are blurred entirely. When Hostiles shines most, is when its characters are forced to make decisions that go against everything and anything you thought they stood for, making for impressively effective character beats. Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, and Jesse Plemons are among this tremendously well-rounded cast. And clearly, the highlight of the film is the acting, particularly, Studi and Bale. It's not necessarily a story you haven't seen - a man going against his world beliefs to help the very people he has sworn for years to go against/kill - but it's never a story I'm going to deny seeing. Bale plays the conflicted Army Captain, Joseph Blocker, forced to escort a Cheyenne Chief (Studi) and his family to their home. The Dynamic gets more complicated when we find out there's a history between the two (not seen on camera) that gives them both reason to want to kill each other. It's that very dynamic that carries the movie from beginning to end. It's a similar plot to 3:10 to Yuma, also a Bale led Western about a man escorting a criminal to a certain place, but Hostiles is a far more brutal affair of violence, betrayal, and other things that are often found in this bloody genre. Even if there could be a helluva lot more heart and weight to the turning points or big moments, I was enthralled with Hostiles because of its unforgettable visuals and breathtaking performances. 8.5/10
Cormac McCarthy's western epic Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West is an obtuse and nearly insurmountable story to commit to screen, and I have my doubts that if it ever is produced that it will properly encapsulate the themes and poetic depth of that novel. But I can appreciate when a movie scratches the surface, and Hostiles is definitely one of those films. In it, Christian Bale is a U.S. Cavalry officer tasked with escorting a Cheyenne war chief back to his tribal home in Montana before the chief succumbs to cancer. To make things worse, the two of them had been at Wounded Knee, and there is a deep-seated hatred stemming from decades of violence that colors the ill-fated expedition and makes survival difficult when they are beset on all sides by murderous Apaches, fur traders, criminals, and landowners. On the way, their party encounters a widow played by Rosamund Pike whose children and husband were murdered days earlier, and there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. It's hard to dredge up sympathy for people who have committed atrocities in war, and many of these characters know deep down they have gone past the point of redemption some time ago. Learning to live with themselves and do right by their country or god versus relishing the barbarian power of their actions is never quite clearly rectified, and that takes an emotional toll on everyone involved. Bale especially delivers a performance as sympathetic as it is reprehensible, but his and many of the other players characterizations are made a bit too easy thanks to mostly monosemous dialogue. The major themes and internal struggles are clearly stated, leaving little to dissect and ruminate on between the bouts of action and violence that drive the plot. What it may lack in depth, it more than makes up for with atmosphere. Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography is quite beautiful in parts and effectively captures the scope and complexity of the western landscape. This is only accentuated by Max Richter's haunting score, centered on a one of a kind acoustic contraption from Turkey called a Yabahar. Its forlorn reverberations, zaps, and squeaks bring to mind a cross between the waterphone, the digeridoo, and a synthesizer, giving the film an eerie, otherworldly quality. For fans of the western genre, there's nothing to see here that hasn't been done before. It has a few problems, but what it does it does well. It's certainly no There Will Be Blood or Unforgiven, but Hostiles easily stands out amidst other lesser known modern western staples like Bone Tomahawk, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and The Salvation.
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