By Dave B.
Hostiles (2018, currently on Netflix) takes place in 1892 and tells the story of Captain Joseph Blocker’s (Christian Bale) last mission. He’s tasked with delivering an old foe, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family to yellow Hawk’s ancestral homeland in Montana. The trip is plagued by misfortune from the outset, with Blocker unable to overcome his dislike and distrust for his former adversary.
At times, Hostiles can be a challenging movie to watch. There are long periods where there is no action and the tone of the movie tends to be overwhelmingly bleak. That said, there is some strong acting. As Captain Blocker, Bale delivers a quietly powerful performance and Studi exudes a quiet dignity and unbowed spirit as the dying Yellow Hawk, despite all of the losses the chief has suffered in his life. The settings are also beautiful. From sparse desert to lush valleys, Hostiles has some of the most gorgeous scenery that I’ve seen on film this year and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is top-notch.
The fatal flaw with the film is the story. Frankly, it’s a mess. Individually, the film’s themes of reconciliation and redemption are compelling, but they lose their impact as the plot fails to maintain any sort of coherence. One pointless tragedy follows another. Characters are introduced, removed, and replaced by other characters with little or no explanation. Hostiles often comes across more as a series of vignettes than as a unified movie. The plot feels like an afterthought, a device crafted merely to get the main characters together instead of a base from which the themes and performances naturally flow.
Hostiles isn’t a bad movie, but director Scott Cooper seems to have bitten off more than he could chew with this one. There’s nothing wrong with making an art-house Western instead of an action-based one…so long as you don’t forget the basics: the story matters as much, if not more than, the ideas and concepts that you are trying to convey. I’m going to recommend Hostiles for it’s (mostly) strong performances and for how well it was shot. But viewers may finish Hostiles feeling like it wastes a chance at greatness or at least that the film could be much more effective and compelling than it is.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.