Film: Hostiles

Director: Scott Cooper

Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Peter Mullan, Scott Wilson, Paul Anderson, Timothee Chalamet, Ben Foster, Jonathan Majors, John Benjamin Hickey, Qorianka Kilcher, Tanaya Beatty, Bill Camp, Scott Shepherd and Ryan Bingham

Rating: ***1/2

Mounted like a ponderous western film, director Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is a slow-paced, melancholic, redemption tale that offers us a brutal slice of American history.

Based on a story by Donald E. Stewart, set in 1892, it is a hero’s journey. A reluctant Captain Joseph Blocker, a US Cavalry officer is tasked to escort an ailing Cheyenne Chieftain and his family back to their home so that the chief may pass away “peacefully” on his native soil.

With deep-seated hatred stemming from decades of violence and a recent encounter with the chief, the captain considers him to be a rival. Hence, the chief and his family are treated like prisoners.

While making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated army outpost in New Mexico to the grasslands of Montana, the group comes across a young widow (Rosamund Pike), a sole survivor of a brutal attack where her entire family was wiped out. With no choice but to take her along, she joins the group on their ill-fated expedition which is attacked by Apaches, fur traders, criminals and landowners.

While the film accurately portrays the period and the dynamics that existed during that time, the film lacks a soul.

The tale is sterile or synthetic, despite appearing to be reverent and introspective. It speaks about a man’s place in the world, his connection with nature and the land he lives in and especially about the original natives by intruders.

There are too many moments where characters reach out to remind us of the premise. Also, the gruesome action, the atrocities and survival instincts, though predictable are subtle, crisp and matter-of-fact, thus making the emotional moments in the narrative too perfunctory.

Similarly, the performances too, though sensitively portrayed by the ace cast lacks the chutzpah and the fault lies in the script as the plot trudges on a sluggish, one-dimensional path.

Nevertheless, Christain Bale excels in internalising his emotions. He delivers a sympathetic performance, almost far too insular as a man speaking with his looks. You can feel the weight of his soul over the course of his journey.

Rosamund Pike is remarkable as the catatonic widow who naturally becomes hysterical at the sight of more Indians. Wes Studi as Chief Yellow Hawk is wasted and so is Adam Beach as his son Black Hawk.

On the technical front, the film more than makes up with the atmosphere. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s camera work is marvellous. With his wide-angled lenses he astutely captures the landscape which include the sets made by production designer Donald Graham Burt. And the viewing experience is accentuated by Composer Max Richter’s rich music.

Overall, Hostiles albeit being bland and unexciting is a well-executed, straightforward film, lost in its own expansive landscape.