Hostiles is simply one of the best westerns to come along in many a moon. It’s a downbeat, gritty, depressing, and handsomely mounted film that is expertly acted by its impressive cast. Not only is it a picture about the savagery that lies in any man, regardless of skin color, it’s also about the inherent good in them. It’s strongest theme though is that redemption is possible for the most brutal of men, even if they don’t exactly go out looking for it.
Christian Bale stars as an Army captain who is given orders to take an imprisoned sickly Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) home to his reservation to die as a free man. Bale is less than thrilled with this assignment since the chief killed many of his officers and friends. Still, he is bound by duty to follow orders. On the trail, they cross paths with a frontier woman (Rosamund Pike) whose entire family were slaughtered by Apaches. They take pity on her, stay with her for a while and offer their time and company. They eventually take her with them on the trail where they are soon menaced by the Apaches, who are still out for blood.
Bale and Pike give devastating performances. Both are working without a net here and push themselves as far as an actor can go to convey sorrow, anger, and loss. How they were overlooked at awards time is a mystery.
Hostiles is a grim, unrelenting, and fascinating film. It shows that both the Native Americans and the white man were heroic, but also capable of great evil as well. Because of that, it’s an honest and unflinching take on the Old West. Director Scott (Out of the Furnace) Cooper paints his characters with the finest of brushstrokes. No one is completely innocent, nor are they wholly guilty. Everyone’s done deeds in the past they aren’t proud of. It’s what they do next that matters most. I think that’s a theme that will stand the test of time. This movie will do likewise.