Film Review: Hostiles (2018)

2018 in Cinema:

Hostiles, 2018

Directed by: Scott Cooper

Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster

 

Dances with Wolves has received a 2018 makeover with Hostiles, a film about an army officer, Joseph (Christian Bale), who’s forced to escort a group of Native Americans from New Mexico to Montana in 19th-century America. The caveat to this journey, however, is that the Chief Native American, Yellow Hawk (West Studi, Dances with Wolves), is a prisoner who has murdered friends of Joseph in the past. Along their way they meet a suicidal widow, Rosalie (Rosamund Pike), whose family, consisting of her husband, two daughters and a baby, was brutally murdered in the opening scene by a group of red-faced Native Americans.

I don’t normally like to make comparisons between two seemingly unrelated and unconnected films, such as Hostiles and Dances with Wolves, but there are a lot of similarities between the two, and I heard a lot of mumblings from other cinema-goers who recognised it, too. They both focus on an officer who initially hates Native Americans before being forced to spend a lengthy time with some and developing a likeness for them and, in turn, disliking the racist white men they encounter.

Christian Bale leads the cast, and he, along with nearly everyone else, plays their role effectively. Conveying the right emotions when needed and remaining focused throughout. There is a quote at the start of the film about how Americans are stoic and tough, and the characters throughout fill these personality traits, but that does bring along a slight criticism. Nobody smiles; nobody laughs; nobody shows any emotion other than anger and sadness. It’s all very serious, and while that can work with certain films, having no light relief throughout in a film of this genre doesn’t help its cause.

There is one moment that I think is designed to be a happy moment, or lead to a happy ending, but it is, to me, an awful scene. I won’t go into detail, as it’s a spoiler, but the two characters involved don’t have any indication prior to this even nor does it benefit anything in the immediate aftermath. It had no real purpose in the film and their back-story leading up to the event didn’t feel natural. And while the story is about Joseph overcoming his prejudice against the Native Americans, unlike with Dances with Wolves it feels a bit rushed in him going from hating them to liking them. Considering the story and history they give Joseph and Yellow Hawk, and Rosalie’s recent troubles with Native Americans, having them all quickly adjust to being friendly with each other felt forced.

However, despite some dislikings I have, there are many positives to Hostiles. One of them is the score; from start to finish it’s beautiful and always feels like it truly reflects the tone of each scene. The music was done by Max Richter, who has previously helped with the Academy Award winning Arrival, so his talent has been seen before and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here. I also loved the brutality of the opening scene, it really set the film up. Where possible I try to go and watch films without any knowledge of it, that way I can’t be influenced by trailer impressions or ratings from other critics, so in a lot of instances the first scene sets up the film, and seeing a family of five all being murdered (aside from Rosalie) in such horrific ways (including a baby). It maintains this intensity throughout in all the fight scenes, and it all felt connected and legitimate because of the opening scene.

And, perhaps, my favourite part of this film is its treatment of death. It’s a minor spoiler so feel free to skip this paragraph, but there is a scene in the film whereby two characters comment on how they can learn to live with having killed people (this conversation is between a killing-veteran and a first-time killer) but they never learn to live with seeing their friends and colleagues die. This conversation not only reflects how the character feels, but how the film feels. We see Joseph and his team kill many Native and non-Native Americans and the film almost doesn’t care, but during their long journey Joseph’s team loses many members (while picking up many more along the way) and with each one they have burials and sad moments. We also feel sad for most of these deaths and each one feels unique and different, which beautifully connects to this random late-night conversation.

Hostiles is a fine film, but, like with Dances with Wolves, it’s not a story I find compelling enough to survive its lengthy run time. I disliked the lack of light moments, in a film full of seriousness and sadness, but it’s also very well acted with a beautiful score, and, for its plot and run time, nicely paced.

Plot: * * *            Acting: * * *       Writing: * * *     Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ¼

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