Hostiles

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Hostiles
"Sound fades into nothing and the pace slows"

The black heart of the West beats to a different drum. Blood of the innocent stains this big country. Massacre and revenge compromise Christian ideals of mercy and forgiveness. Those who lived it, those who fought it, those who survived it were broken inside. Such a man is Capt Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale).

The film opens with an Indian raiding party in which no quarter is given. A family of frontier farmers is attacked. Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) escapes, half mad with terror and grief. She is brought to the fort, a collection of huts in the middle of nowhere, where soldiers are billeted.

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Blocker was leading the unit that saved her. She witnessed his treatment of the captured redskins. Some might call it murder, others retribution. Rosalie feels grateful in her heart. There is nothing left but rage. Let it be shared.

For political reasons it has been decided in Washington to make a gesture towards the enemy in order to end the Indian wars and so the colonel at the fort releases a handful of Cheyenne, including the old and dying Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), who have been incarcerated for over a year. Blocker is ordered to escort them back to their homeland. At first he refuses. His experience with the Cheyenne has been fearsome, including the torture and killing of his best friend.

The scene is set, the journey about to begin. Rosalie is with them. Blocker leads, his face like thunder. Certain stereotypes are set in place, the strong/silent captain, the gentle natives with their feeling for the earth, the beautiful white woman, the loyal escorts, the untamed prairie.

Sound fades into nothing and the pace slows. Bale's performance locks up. If this is Method acting, it is too dark and closed to break through into the light. Blocker becomes a bore and Chief Yellow Hawk claims the higher moral ground. Pike is a brick. She's English. She brings colour back into Rosalie's cheeks so that by the end she's not a mad grief stricken excuse for an unwanted passenger but a woman of grit with twice the character of that grumpy guy with the beard who seems tormented by death.

Classic Westerns have a beauty that infuses the audience with something beyond urban escapism. Now things have changed. The late lamented TV series Deadwood mirrored modern cynicism where anarchy and lawlessness ruled.

Hostiles attempts to share the pain.

Reviewed on: 27 Dec 2017
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An Army captain escorts a Cheyenne chief through hostile territory.

Director: Scott Cooper

Writer: Scott Cooper

Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Adam Beach, Tanaya Beatty, Stephen Lang, Peter Mullan, Scott Wilson

Year: 2017

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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