In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.
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In his relatively short Hollywood career, writer/director Scott Cooper has tackled the music drama (Crazy Heart
), the revenge movie (Out of the Furnace
), and the crime biography (Black Mass
). Even though the genres are all markedly different, each of his movies has bared his distinct cinematic thumbprint. The same can be said for his newest movie, the revisionist western Hostiles
is about a legendary retiring U.S. Cavalry officer named Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale from American Hustle
and American Psycho
) whose last orders are to transport a dying Cheyenne Indian prisoner named Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi from The Last of the Mohicans
) from his New Mexico prison to a reservation in Montana. Under threat of losing his pension, Blocker reluctantly agrees, and his platoon sets off on the long journey with Yellow Hawk and his family in tow. Along the way, the expedition meets up with a young woman named Rosalie Quaid (Gone Girl
's Rosamund Pike), the last survivor of a Comanche massacre who saw her entire family slaughtered and scalped. Blocker convinces her to join up with them as they make their way through the hostile Comanche territory.
Cooper adapted the screenplay for Hostiles
himself from an unpublished manuscript by the late screenwriter Donald E. Stewart (who wrote a few of the old Jack Ryan movies like Patriot Games
and Clear and Present Danger
). As a revisionist western, it's a pretty solid movie, full of cowboys and Indians on both sides of the law. It's a story of unlikely alliances being forged out of the ashes of hatred, with some of the subject looking for revenge while others just want to survive the mission.
And there's plenty of conflict in the movie. Of course, there's the outward conflict between the Comanche war parties and the small platoon of soldiers who are tasked with protecting Yellow Hawk. But there's also infighting amongst the soldiers, as many (including Blocker) don't feel that Yellow Hawk is worth their time. Then there's Rosalie, who just sees an Indian being transported and doesn't care if he's Comanche or Cheyenne, she just wants to even the score for her dead husband and children. Finally, there's the internal struggle with Blocker, who is at odds between what he has spent his career doing (killing Indians) and what his final orders are (protecting an Indian). It all makes for a surprisingly layered storyline, considering it's basically a point-A-to-point-B plot.
It's kind of strange that there isn't a harder awards push for Hostiles
. Scott Cooper is a competent and compelling filmmaker. Christian Bale is a bona-fide movie star, and the support cast includes current Hollywood It-boy Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name
) and new Spielberg regular Jesse Plemons (The Post
). Not that it would win any, as there are better movies out there this season, but at the very least Hostiles
could pick up some technical nominations. As it is, Hostiles
will probably become one of those good movies that is quickly forgotten.
Like any western, the photography in Hostiles
is breathtaking. The film was shot on location in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, and the natural landscape really emphasizes the isolation of the expedition. They are out in the middle of nowhere, with no one to save them if a pack of Comanche ride up on them, and the photography expresses that desperate loneliness. It's a deceptive trick, because the landscape is stunningly beautiful, lulling the audience into thinking that they're watching a tourism film, and once their guard is down, danger strikes. Takayanagi is great at making the savage land look inviting, only to have it prove itself savage again. It's a thin line, and Takayanagi's cinematography walks it skillfully.