“Hostiles” is a magnificent film. Although I had never even heard of Scott Copper, the Writer/Director/Producer, I sure won’t miss his future films. This movie is definitely in my Top Three of 2017 and may even be my favorite! (My other two favorites are “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards.”) Before “Hostiles,” Cooper’s most lauded film was “Crazy Heart,” which won a couple of Best Screenplay awards. He is also an actor.
The movie opens with a very violent scene. A small band of Comanche warriors attack a family of settlers. The incident is beyond traumatic to the mother Rosalie (Rosamund Pike), who temporarily becomes psychotic. This scene graphically depicts the brutal violence and hatred between the Native Americans and the settlers and soldiers that were invading their land.
It’s 1892 and Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is given the unsavory mission to escort the Apache Chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), who has been imprisoned in a fort for seven years, back to his prior home in Wyoming. (The U.S. government has essentially wiped the Indians out, and is trying to be nice to the few who are left.) Blocker has been fighting the Indian wars for years and is burnt out. He is near retirement and initially rejects the assignment from his General, but he will get court-marshaled and lose his Army pension if he refuses. He has fought against Yellow Hawk and witnessed his brutality (although Blocker has done the same to the Indians). Blocker hates Yellow Hawk’s guts, and the feeling is mutual.
A small band of soldiers is picked to accompany Blocker, and they set off with Chief Yellow Hawk and his family (daughter, son-in-law, and grandson). The Comanche warriors, however, are still on the war path. Yellow Hawk fears another attack, since Comanches kill everyone, even other Native Americans. He tries to persuade Blocker to free him and his son-in-law from their chains, but Blocker doesn’t trust him. The Comanches soon attack, and people on both sides are killed. It is apparent that, if Blocker and the members of his party are to survive, they will all have to fight together and trust each other. Most of the film is about what happens externally – and, even more important, internally – to them during the odyssey to Yellow Hawk’s home.
The film reminds me of the Academy Award winning Revenant (2015), but I think it’s better. The cinematography (Masanobu Jakayangi) is even more spectacular. Leonardo DiCaprio won the Best Actor AA, but I think Bale’s performance tops his. (Bale will probably lose out to Gary Oldman, but I think Bale’s was the best performance of 2017.) The film is a very powerful emotional experience, with themes of rage, violence, racism, friendship, forgiveness, and love, all combined into a seamless, comprehensive whole. The only flaw I found in the film is a sub-plot which added about 20 minutes of unnecessary footage and distracted from the main thrust of the movie.
This film is a MUST SEE. Bale and the movie are both worthy of AAW nominations. Pike is terrific, too, but her part probably isn’t substantial enough for her to get a nomination.
(P.S.: If you don’t agree with me, I might become “Hostile.”)