Hostiles (2017) REVIEW – A Successful Contemporary Western

Hostiles review
Credit: Lorey Sebastian, Copyright: Yellow Hawk, Inc.

Writer-director Scott Cooper has provided us a contemporary Western in his newest film, Hostiles. The film is contemporary through its message, even though it still takes place in the gritty Old West.

Christian Bale stars as Cavalry Captain Joseph Blocker, war hero-turned-jailer, who’s reluctant to take on a mission to escort the dying Cheyenne war chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), and his family from Fort Berringer, a New Mexico prison outpost and settle them back in Montana. Blocker isn’t a fan of this mission and being threatened with a court martial won’t change his feelings.

Along their journey, they meet a widow, Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike). Despite the way in which she’s introduced, she’s still battling PTSD from witnessing the deaths of her family at the hands of the Comanche. Pike plays Quaid to amazing effect. As the film progresses, Quaid looks way too pretty to have been living in this time period –especially for a person journeying by horseback through many different states.

As the film starts out, Yellow Hawk and Blocker couldn’t be further apart on anything. It’s only throughout their battles with the Comanche and others in which they learn to work together if they want to live. Yellow Hawk is dying, so there’s no guarantee he will even live long after they make it to Montana.

Maybe it’s because of the friends he loses to the shootouts, but Blocker is able to see  eye to eye with Yellow Hawk as they take the 1,000 mile journey towards Montana. It’s enough of a gesture that Blocker removes the chains. It’s the moment when Blocker starts breaking down at the loss of friends that it soon becomes apparent that the army captain is not the tough guy everyone thought.

If these Blocker and Yellow Hawk were able to come together in their fight for survival in 1892, surely the audience watching the film will be able to see the message that Cooper is trying to send. The film stresses the importance of working together as a means of getting things done. This idea couldn’t be more important now than ever before.

Hostiles follows a terrible trend taking place in 2017 in that the film decides to end one scene too late. The ending doesn’t take away from the strong film that it is, but it would have been just as strong of a film by ending a scene sooner following an epic shootout.

Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi is able to capture the West with beautiful imagery that’s becoming increasingly rare because of land being developed. The color palette in lighting is one that production designer Donald Graham Burt is able to contrast. It’s because of the contrast that the film doesn’t truly feel like a period piece. The cinematic views on the range are visually impressive as the wide shots allow for the scenery to be taken in. The close-ups do as well, to an extent.

Through its themes of reconciliation, healing, and inclusion, Cooper is able to modernize the classic Western for the 21st century audiences without taking away from the core ingredients of the genre. It’s because of this that Cooper is able to tell a universal story that can be placed in any era or genre of film.

Hostiles opens in limited release on December 22, 2017.

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