Christian Bale plays a U.S. Army captain forced to escort an old foe across the American wilderness.
Director Scott Cooper's brutal new Western, Hostiles, is as unflinching as its title suggests - opening with a horrific scene in which a family of pioneers are massacred at the hands of a band of Comanche Native Americans - with only the traumatised mother Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) left alive.
At a nearby fort and encampment U.S. Army captain, Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) is handed a mission he is deeply uncomfortable with. Blocker, a soldier embittered by the death of his men at the hands of the Cheyenne tribe, is asked to escort their imprisoned cancer-stricken chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his home in Montana to die.
Blocker and his men, who include war weary sergeant Thomas (Rory Cochrane), raw but well-educated lieutenant Rudy (Jesse Plemons), and youngster Philippe (Timothee Chamalet) insist the chief and his son Black Hawk (Adam Beach) are clapped in irons. Their mistrust of their captives only increases when they come across Rosalie, in shock, still clutching her dead baby, and traumatised further by the sight of Native Americans.
Despite the hostility between Blocker and his captives, it soon becomes clear that their real foes are not each other, but other 'hostiles' - white and native, determined to pick off their party. Forced together through circumstance, Rosalie forms a bond with Black Hawk's wife Elk Woman (Q'orianka Kilcher) and their daughter, while the captain and chief build up a mutual respect as warriors whose lives are dictated by decisions taken thousands of miles away.
The landscapes look beautiful, with Blocker and his band of misfits travelling across America's expansive plains and dense forests. Despite spectacular cinematography, Hostiles lacks the innovative, unique spark of film's such as The Revenant, nor the outrageous pyrotechnics of Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, and its sedate pace may lose less committed Western fans.
Cooper's film is elevated by the performances of his stellar cast. Bale exhibits a combination of stoicism and swagger that in an earlier era would have marked him out as a star of the genre. His character's developing, mournful, relationship with Wes Studi's chief is genuinely touching - while Pike's performance is perfectly pitched between strength and vulnerability. The supporting cast also imbue all of their characters with compelling personalities.
Their acting helps give a story that could be a cliched tale about the loss of the Old West heart. While Hostiles is not a classic or pioneering Western, those fascinated by the genre and its depiction of men and women facing harsh realities and landscapes, will find plenty to love.
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