By Henry Hill
Sometimes when you haven’t seen an actor or actress in a film for a few years, they slip into the back of your mind, and it isn’t until you see the trailer for their next movie that you are reminded just how great they are at their craft. That was the case when I saw the trailer for Hostiles with Christian Bale starring. Ten years ago, Bale and Russell Crowe were in a terrific remake of the 1957 western, 3:10 to Yuma. The trailer for Hostiles hinted that we were in for another great western with Bale, and after seeing the film, I can say that it is a great western.
Hostiles was directed by Scott Cooper, whose previous films include Black Mass, Crazy Heart, and Out of the Furnace which also starred Christian Bale. The talented cast includes Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Timothee Chalamet, Adam Beach, Stephen Lang and Paul Anderson. The story takes place in 1892.
The film begins with a woman’s (Pike) family being killed by Apache Indians. The woman is able to flee and avoid capture, but her two daughters and infant son are killed in the process. Next, we meet up with Joseph Blocker (Bale), a legendary army captain who is about to retire from duty. The colonel calls him in to his office and tells him that he has an order from President Harrison to escort prisoner and rival Cheyenne Indian chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) back to his tribal land in Montana, as he is dying of cancer and wishes to go home to live out the rest of his days. Joseph is disgusted by the order, having fought against the chief in the past where he brutally killed several of his soldiers. He tells the colonel that he will not escort the chief and that he can find someone else to do it. As Joseph is about to storm out, the colonel stops him and tells him that if he wants his pension when he retires that he will obey the order. Joseph decides to make it his final duty to escort the chief and his family from Fort Berringer, New Mexico to Montana tribal land and is joined by fellow soldiers played by . As they set out on their journey, they come across Rosalie Quaid in a state of shock in the burnt remains of her house, sitting down holding her dead infant with the bodies of her dead daughters laying down on the beds next to her. Joseph tells her that she can come with them and they will take her somewhere where she will be safe. She is reluctant to go with them because the chief and his family are with them, and she sees them as the same as the Indians who butchered her family.
Hostiles is very much a film about always having enemies and about forgiving those who may have caused suffering. These themes are acted out brilliantly by the film’s leads. Christian Bale is able to convey every emotion from rage to empathy without having to give long speeches or strands of dialogue. You can tell what he is feeling by looking in his eyes and the by the expressions on his face. It’s a master class in acting by one of the greatest actors of this or any generation. Rosamund Pike is also at the very top her game, playing a grieving mother and wife who has lost everything that she loved. Like Bale’s character, she finds it extremely difficult to put aside the prejudice and hate that she feels for native americans having just had her family butchered by a group of brutal apaches. Wes Studi has been the go to actor for native americans in westerns for years now, and the wisdom and experiences in his life filter through his performance. Like the two leads, he must overcome the guilt and grief he has suffered in life to find peace. The supporting cast is led by Rory Cochrane, who gives the performance of his career as a soldier who has been broken by years of bloodshed and loss and carries an unbearable amount of pain within his soul. Lastly, I’ll mention Ben Foster who is probably the best at playing characters torn between good and evil and possessing a boiling anger within himself. In this film, Foster plays a prisoner of war that once fought alongside Bale’s character in battle. He enters the story around the halfway point of the movie and as always steals the screen in an unpredictable fashion.
Hostiles was unfortunately overlooked this Oscar season. With so many great performances and films this year, I can understand that. Just know that it deserves to be seen and is enthralling from start to finish. The cast is nearly flawless and filled with many of our generations best and rising stars. Scott Cooper has crafted another fine film and has managed to elicit a terrific performance from Christian Bale yet again. Hostiles deserves to be mentioned along with the best westerns of all-time!
I am giving Hostiles a 4 ½ of out 5 Hairpieces