I had a chance to see Hostiles on the big screen, officially coming to theaters January 18th, and, lucky to go in fresh, I left with a dreadful joy that only comes from superbly-told tragedy. Written and directed by Scott Cooper, this star-studded Western originally eluded my radar, but I was fortunate to discover an enriching tale in which the meticulous pace, seldom but sometimes tedious, was a melancholic canvas for true miseries experienced by those who came before us.
The fictional but historically honest film is a slow burn, punctuated by abrupt and terrible violence. The story follows a seasoned army captain (Christian Bale) in the untamed West of 1892. After a long history of battle with Native Americans, he is begrudgingly forced to escort a former enemy, a dying Cheyenne chief and his family, through treacherous territory to his rightful home. The dangerous world of Hostiles is a merciless reminder of a history that would be all too comfortable to forget.
The powerful material of the story unfolds across the savage American frontier, where violence found prime conditions for breeding. Brought to life by an all-around great cast, the two main roles played by Bale and Rosamund Pike were executed on a caliber stupendous to behold. Bale’s emotionally festering soldier was an intense display of a man torn apart by duty and tragedy. A climate that promised to eat him alive found enough resistance to stay hungry but the sustenance to always return for more.
A ‘Black Death’ of the American West, wartime tension stretched itself thin on the poor captain’s past, present, and future. Pike, whose own timeline of woe set the stage for the wonderfully complex actress to do what she does best, cracked open the character’s bare-bones role, revealing a rich display of tenderness and dismay.
The tone of the film begins in deep hopelessness and only sinks deeper as it goes on. The bleak backdrop doesn’t only serve to depress though, as the pitch blackness serves to allow the smallest light to look like blazing sunshine. While you have to dig deep to find the ray of warmth, it makes itself known. Like the thunderous gunfire that cut through drawn-out silences, an expertly managed contrast illuminated the shape of a turbulent history of razor-sharp racial tension and sloppy, messy humanity.
Based on an unpublished manuscript, Scott Cooper, following his similarly part-inconsistent but nevertheless brilliant Black Mass (2015), delivers a hard-hitting dramatic script that finds itself a step up from the humdrum, cookie-cutter storytelling that only takes a breath for budget purposes.
The only lack of excellence apparent would creep in with rare but present questionable plot decisions and a dialogue exchange or two that needed rhythmic adjustment. Beyond the overly fastidious findings of this critic, this is an incredibly put together piece of filmmaking. If you find yourself craving a mental meal crafted by a methodical chef instead of the mishmash of microwaved semi-satisfaction by line cooks dominating your movie screens, check out Hostiles on January 18th, 2018.
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