Westerns were very popular back in the day with action movies like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and hundreds more. However, by the end of the twentieth century a western had to have a good plot, a lot of special effects and some amazing twists to keep theater seats filled. Only a handful have made it big, but in the year 2015 both The Hateful Eight and Oscar winner The Revenant did exceptional box office business.
Along comes Hostiles a slice of the old west involving the Indian wars that devastated New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and other states in the late 1890’s. It was a bloody time for both sides of the battles with the government soldiers finally bringing the tribes under control. The plot of Hostiles is simple one, but like Heaven’s Gate, too much content can be a too much of downside to make it a winner.
The film opens on a prairie ranch run by Wesley Quaid (Scott Shepherd), his wife Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) and their two young children each tending to the chores. Over a ridge some Indian war scouts eye the horses in the Quaid’s coral and without hesitation start their approach. Wesley gets the family into the house and he’s rifle ready. The scene gets played out viciously and the braves ride away. Like most of the renegade Apache warriors who have not accepted defeat, they are a killing machine that’s out of control.
Many miles away from the Quaid’s a different scene is taking place. United States President Benjamin Harrison has sent a pardon to the murderous Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) being held at Fort Berringer, New Mexico. It is part of the agreement to end the war with the tribes. At the post the Commanding Officer Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang) orders Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) to lead the group, with the help a handful of volunteer soldiers, safely back to Montana hundreds of miles away. There has always been bad blood between Yellow Hawk and Blocker and although he resists, he knows that if he doesn’t accept the order he’ll be court marshalled.
Saddled, packed and ready to shove off, this will be a dangerous, defiant, vengful and bloody trip in which not all will survive. Director Scott Cooper (Black Mass, Crazy Heart) moves his film along at a slow gallop as he introduces his characters, shows the lay of the land, and works in all the back stories for his audience. He adds several run-ins with Apaches, problems with the terrain and infighting within the group. Along the way they come across the Quaid ranch and add a wounded Rosalie to the procession.
Christian Bale gives one of his better performances as Captain Blocker. The trek becomes more about his past and the conflicts within him than the dangerous trip through Apache territory to return his arch nemesis to his former homeland. You can see in Bale that his character has no intention of getting Yellow Hawk to the final destination. But as he grows his character you witness the changes over the long trek with a different person about to emerge. He makes the film work much like the brooding Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Revenant.
The production value out shines the story however as the script is too long for the simple plot. While the camerawork delivers amazing views, close ups of the terrifying fights and charming pictures of the west, if Director Cooper had just been a lot quicker getting from the start to the very gory finish, the movie would have been more enjoyable.
Hostiles has been rated R by the MPAA for strong violence, and language.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A lengthy western with a lot of action. (3 out of 5 stars)
Additional Film Information
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, and Timothée Chalamet
Direction and screenplay by: Scott Cooper
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Western
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min
Release Date: January 2, 2018
Distributed by: Entertainment Studios Motion Picture