Plot: Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) has served for decades as a soldier, first in the Civil War, now on the frontier to help push back the Natives, hunt down escapees, and protect the settlers. He is worn down, tired, and filled with hate, as he is haunted by both the endless loss of his fellow soldiers and his own actions, which have been so brutal and violent, it earned him a well known reputation. The violence has taken a toll on him and those who served alongside him, but he is soon to step away and start his life after service. But he is tasked with one final assignment, one that he will refuse to carry out, until he is threatened with prison and the loss of his pension. A notorious Native has been in chains for years, now old and dying from cancer, with a desire to return to his sacred land before death. The president himself has ordered he be allowed to return home and Blocker has been given the detail, so against his will, he chooses a squad and begins the escort. As he and his men travel to the sacred land, they encounter many unexpected turns, ones that cause even Blocker to look inward and question his role in a most violent struggle.
Entertainment Value: Hostiles is a bleak, violent, and sometimes uneven experience, but I found it to be a rock solid western with some strong performances. The narrative is simple, put opposing sides in close quarters and force them to coexist, but in truth, this one is driven by characters more than plot threads. To that end, I feel like the cast is excellent, but there’s so much character depth and evolution needed, the actual story feels a little rushed. But these are characters who have been forged in fire and psychologically eroded over time, so the shifts might seem a little fast, but I think it was a long time coming for most of them. In other words, we come in at the tail end of most of these personal stories, which means the movie assumes we can pick up on the toll their unseen experiences have taken. Christian Bale is given a complex role and he nails the performance, bringing to life the deep inner suffering of Blocker and that glint of humanity that still resides within. Wes Studi is also quite good here, in a subtle role, while Rosamund Pike is a little over the top, but fun to watch as a woman driven into derangement by life’s darker elements. The rest of the cast is up to the task as well, with Timothy Chalamet, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Bill Camp, Ben Foster, and several others in competent roles. I can see how Pike’s manic effort or the relentlessly bleak world view might displease some viewers, but I think Hostiles is a well made, powerful western that deserves to be seen.
No nakedness. At one point some women are abducted and raped, but the assault happens off screen and isn’t shown whatsoever. The intense toll of the assault is evident, however. This is a dark, violent movie and as such, there is frequent bloodshed of various kinds. This includes a lot of gun shot wounds that spurt blood, a scalping, arrow wounds, and other assorted incidents of violence. Most of the bloodshed is fast and non graphic, though the scalping is shown up and in great detail. The shoot outs are well staged and feature some terrific sound design, so each bullet feels tactile and packs a punch. While the movie is violent, it takes great pains to explore the toll the violence has taken on those involved. As for the dialogue, I feel it is well written and expertly performed, but is quite serious in tone and as such, doesn’t yield much in terms of wild or outlandish lines. A lot of grizzled, tough guy talk and shattered wisdom however, so the movie earns a point for those. As I said, the movie is serious and bleak, with no real craziness outside of Pike’s presence. Her character is psychologically wrecked, so her off the rails performance seems justified to me, but it does stand out as odd given how serious and straight forward the rest of the cast is.
Overall Insanity: 1/10