Hostiles movie review: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike's performances stand out in an otherwise dull film
Hostiles is largely elevated by Bale’s performance as a man on the verge of losing his sanity, and the unforgiving landscapes the film serves on a regular basis.
Scott Cooper is a strange filmmaker in that all his movies have interesting premises but they never really live up to their promises. Hostiles, his new project with Christian Bale in the lead is his best film, which essentially means it works at most places even though it’s a dreary and grim slog through some pretty visuals and wild west aesthetics.
In the 19th century Captain Blocker (Bale) is assigned a duty to escort a Native American prisoner named Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his home in Montana. The two set off on a trip joined by Blocker’s team (which includes the amazing Jesse Plemons, Timothee Chalamet from Call me by your name and others), but face a crisis as a woman named Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) stumbles into them caught in a crossfire of warring tribal factions. Blocker has no choice but to let Rosaline accompany them and dodge the many people out there in the wild trying to kill each other.
The film is largely elevated by Bale’s performance as a man on the verge of losing his sanity, and the unforgiving landscapes the film serves on a regular basis. If you’re looking for a crowd pleaser, this is not the movie for you because there is persistent bleakness and the feeling of lack of hope throughout. There is a discussion to be had about how grim is too grim and dull for an audience to find a film gripping because for vast swaths of time it does feel like the filmmakers have taken the oxygen away from you.
The last movie to do this was John Hillcoat’s post apocalyptic drama The Road which also offered a remorseless atmosphere. The bursts of action in this film largely work as energy propulsion devices just to keep you from walking away to the exit door.
The narrative is uneven and there is a battle going on between the mainstream thriller movie undercurrent versus the arthouse wild west prestige picture that Cooper attempts to craft. Much like in the recently released The Revenant Cooper tries to make light of the horrors that the Natives had seen before the colonization and the spirit of violence that persists no matter how far the sands of time fall, but there’s nothing you haven’t seen before in films like Dances with Wolves and The New World which also starred Bale.
There are many stereotypical elements in the film, like characters standing in front of the camera, saying something philosophical or heavy handed and then being killed the next minute. This genre cliché exercise seems to be the albatross around the neck for Cooper who made the same mistakes in Black Mass.
Ultimately this is a hard movie to recommend – it does attempt some important themes but it’s overlong and just too cheerless to sit through considering the lack of ingenuity within the narrative. The only real question it poses is why Rosamund Pike’s career hasn’t taken off since the three year old Gone Girl. She delivers a phenomenal performance here as well and deserves more interesting projects.
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