Susan Granger’s review of “Hostiles” (Entertainment Studios)
Paying homage to classic Westerns like John Ford’s “The Searchers,” writer/director Scott Cooper has created a different kind of frontier saga, one which examines the complexity of the Native American conflict and connects with relevant, contemporary themes, including reconciliation, inclusion and equality.
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer,” states the preface by D.H. Lawrence.
Set in 1892, it begins with a vicious Comanche raid on isolated homesteaders and U.S. soldiers torturing an Apache family – setting the scene for this revisionist examination of the American West.
Under threat of court martial, embittered Army Capt. Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) must escort dying Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from imprisonment at Fort Berringer in New Mexico Territory to their tribal lands in Montana.
Riding northward through the rugged landscape, Blocker and his small troop of soldiers discover grief-wracked Mrs. Quaid (Rosamond Pike), the sole survivor of that Comanche raid; she is determined to dig her children’s graves with her own bare hands.
Given no choice, Blocker takes the widow along with them. When they reach Ford Collins, Colorado, he’s further burdened by transporting psychopathic Sgt. Philip Wills (Ben Foster) for trial.
When the travelers are brutally attached by Comanche raiders, Yellow Hawk begs to be released so he can help them fight, observing, “We must unite…” Eventually, when faced by a stubborn rancher who refuses to allow proper Cheyenne burials, they do.
Working from an episodic script by the late screenwriter Donald Steward, Scott Cooper enlisted Chief Philip Whiteman, the pre-eminent Northern Cheyenne Chief of Montana, to ensure authenticity. Along with his cast and crew, he was determined to get every detail of their customs and mores correct.
“The majority of Americans are shocked at what our country has become,” notes Bale. “This tax bill, etc. is not what American was built on. I adore this country; it’s my adopted home. Most Americans are shocked to see the hatred and division that has occurred recently, particularly towards refugees. It’s a genuine tragedy. But we have been here before; we can learn from that.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hostiles” is a savage, sorrowful 6, perhaps igniting a conversation about how two opposing forces can come together and move forward in peace and harmony, for the betterment of humanity.