Friday, February 23, 2018
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HOSTILES: An American Western… And That’s Pretty Much It

With average performances, a weak script, and a lack of sentiment regarding the treatment of Native Americans, Hostiles isn’t going to make audiences want westerns to come back anytime soon.

If you thought westerns were dead, or if you thought that The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp had killed whatever was left of them, you would be wrong. Or right, depending on how you look at it. Hostiles, directed by Scott Cooper, gives us nothing we haven’t seen before in westerns.

A Totally Unforeseeable Plot

We have the hardened and prejudice Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) who is ordered to bring the recently-released-from-prison Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family to their native land in Montana. Along the way, Blocker and his team find Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) whose husband and three children were murdered by natives. Predictably, not everyone makes it through this long and treacherous journey to Montana, and Bale’s character learns the “you’re not so different, you and I” lesson. And yes, Blocker and the Chief need to team up to defeat bad natives and bad white guys alike.

The opening scene os Hostiles immediately shows Mrs. Quaid’s family being savagely killed, but after the scalping, it only gets dull from there. Not to say there isn’t plenty more brutality after that, but the title of the movies is Hostiles so it’s to be expected. From that scene on, it’s just a lot of wary horseback riding, shooting, and white men feeling guilty for their terrible choices. But, hey, it could have been worse. They could have not admitted several times throughout the movie that white people treated the natives like animals, which indeed would have been a huge mistake.

HOSTILES: An American Western... and That's Pretty Much It

source: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

The goal of their journey is to get Chief Yellow Hawk to his home before he dies of cancer. The character – and his family – have very little dialogue throughout the movie. Their sole purpose in the story is for Captain Blocker to gain some perspective and realize he had been wrong about natives. While that was achieved, it isn’t necessarily helpful to the cause to have Native American characters only there for a white person to realize his mistakes.

In the end, Yellow Hawk and his family make it to their destination. Inevitably, they will have to confront the white men that have moved there. It may not be the ending that audiences want, but it is the ending they can predict.

Uninspired… Everything

Hostiles could have used the breathtaking scenery to add a little something to the cinematography, but unfortunately that opportunity was missed. The tone was mostly depressing and guilt-ridden, but not very complex. It seems as though director Scott Cooper may have been aiming for something more than a plot-driven adventure movie, but misses the mark. The script, also by Scott Cooper, is extremely weak and nothing could have saved it.

HOSTILES: An American Western... and That's Pretty Much It

source: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

The performances by everyone in Hostiles were good, but nothing spectacular. Christian Bale gives us his best Christian Bale, and Rosamund Pike put forth a decent “I’ve-just-lost-my-whole-family-but-my-faith-will-see-me-through-it”. Truthfully, there was not a lot for these two to work with anyway. Not to mention, Wes Studi deserved more than the few boring lines he was given.

We Need More

Overall, Hostiles was tiresome and stale. What it really comes down to is that this is not exactly the kind of movie we need right now. Yes, the film acknowledges the grotesque treatment of Native Americans, but they could have done better. Yes, there’s an all-star cast, but no one gave a jaw-dropping performance. There was some sentiment, but there should have been more. If you’re looking for an average American Western movie, then this is the movie for you. If you were hoping for a twist on the classic genre, look elsewhere.

People want more than a normal western with a little extra white-guilt. A much better movie could have been made revolving around Native Americans. This film isn’t going to make audiences want westerns to come back anytime soon.

Have you seen Hostiles? What could they have done better? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Hostiles was released in the US and the UK on January 19, 2018. For all international release dates, see here.

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

I'm currently an English Literature grad student, and I love stories! Movies are my favorite thing to write about.

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