Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Director: Scott Cooper
Screenwriter: Scott Cooper
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/7/17
Opens: December 22, 2017
It may still surprise some to hear that Columbus did not discover America; that Indians, or Native Americans, were here as far back as 20,000 years ago. Even while acknowledging this truth, some may still say that the Europeans who made incursions into the U.S. were justified in committing genocide against the original inhabitants, because “the Indians are savages.” Some add that the tribes did not live together in peace and harmony but made war against one another. “They do not discriminate,” states Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), the principal Indian personality in Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles.” He is alluding to the fact that the Comanche tribesmen and the Cheyennes had been enemies, out to kill as many of the others as they can. As the story unfolds, Cooper will ultimately show that the whites did not live together peacefully either, but are just as adept at killing one another as any other race.
Cooper, whose “Black Mass” deals with Whitey Bulger, the most infamous violent criminal in South Boston history, deals with a criminal element in “Hostiles” as well, though the focus could conceivably be the massive criminality on the part of both an army platoon and their enemies. If you like, you may call the actions of the Indians against white incursion the Resistance, though both sides could lay claim to that label—the soldiers resisting the presence in America of people from a different culture, the Native Americans fighting against those they consider invaders.
As you might expect, there are periods of drastic violence encouraged by pure hatred, as when in the earliest such action a group of Apaches raid the domicile of a white family, slaughtering all but the mother, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), who escapes by hiding. Yet by 1892, the Indians have more or less been subjugated by the cavalry in Arizona territory. As such, the army looks for a soldier to escort its prisoner, Chief Yellowhawk to his Montana digs. And who is chosen by the colonel to lead a team? That would be Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), who surprisingly is almost fluent in the Cheyenne dialect. Though he is an educated fellow who reads “Julius Caesar” in the original Latin, he has no use for Yellowhawk. The theme of the film becomes the way that through his meetings with the old and sick Indian, he becomes a mensch, understanding that there are two sides to every conflict.
Blocker’s trust in the Indians he is escorting through Comanche territory on the way to Montana is such that he ultimately unchains them, freeing them to fight alongside the army lest they die together. As though the job were not complex enough, the army quartet, made up of the captain, a corporal, a sergeant and a private, pick up a criminal, Philip Wills (Ben Foster), dealing with him with such indifference to his humanity that Wills could be called part of the resistance as well.
The inevitable happens in the romance department. Rosalie, who had lost her entire family to the Apaches, warms up to the captain. They may or may not “get it on.” A climactic scene involving white civilians who are themselves opposed to the actions of the army will conclude the physical action, while an epilogue, involving a train to Chicago, wraps up the story.
“Hostiles” has fast-moving action but these are few and far between. Most of the movie involves phlegmatic talk by people who drone on whether in monotones or near-whispers. Though many films can profit from a slow pace, the tempo frequently halts the momentum of a tale that is more about its varied cinematography than about compelling battles. “Hostiles” was filmed in the West; in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.
Rated R. 133 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C+
Acting – B-
Technical – B-
Overall – C+