Directed by Scott Cooper
Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Scott Shepard, David Midthunder, Stephen Lang, Bill Camp, and Jesse Plemons
Film Review by Niall Maggs
Believe it or not, there is a difference between a slow burn and a bore. Hostiles is unfortunately the latter.
Christian Bale is Joseph Blocker, a legendary Army captain who reluctantly escorts a Native American-Indian chief and his family through dangerous territory. Along the way, they meet Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) who goes along with the group, consisting of other soldiers.
A small plot like this should take no longer than 105 minutes right? Well Hostiles clocks in at two hours and fifteen minutes, with about twenty minutes of filler which really shouldn’t be there. Most film critics will tell you the long runtime is perfect for slow, tense story building and masterful pacing… well Hostiles doesn’t have any of that. Sadly, it’s just boring.
Christian Bale delivers one of his best performances in his entire career, he has some very memorable scenes – in a film that doesn’t actually have many, but every time he is on screen he shines. A scene near the beginning where he has just been given the mission brief blew me away. Not only is he intimidating in this scene, but you actually have sympathy for the character. You understand why he doesn’t want to escort the family as they were the enemy of the Americans. But he also sounds like the most ignorant man in the Army. This type of dynamic as really effective. The monologue Bale delivers in this scene is just chilling. Illustrating how he’s been trained to kill them, not save them. The way his character's attitude towards the Indians changes, is not only an important topic and theme of acceptance, racism and discrimination, but a heart warming scene that speaks volumes, when the chief and Captain accept each other as friends.
Rosamund Pike is also fantastic, as always. Her character had witnessed her whole family massacred; the way she displays the madness that her character descends into is beyond incredible. There’s a sequence later on in the first act where she just breaks down. I was speechless by just how fantastic she was in that scene.
Hostiles' cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi was jaw-dropping. The wide shots of the vast landscape were breath taking, and it really created a sense of depth, isolation and loneliness. There are multiple shots like these that really pay homage to Westerns from the 50’s and 60’s like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. You can tell director Scott Cooper took inspiration from masters like Sergio Leone, and has a lot of respect for them.
Cooper's direction in Hostiles has a tendency to repeat everything that happens. They ride on horses, get attacked, sleep, repeat until the climax. This repetition gets very boring very fast, and it’s just lazy storytelling. The whole film feels like a rehash of Bone Tomahawk, with a very similar plot, structure, and lack of interesting characters. Even the score just feels straight out of other Western films.
Originality is one of the weakest points in the movie, which is obviously a very important aspect in filmmaking. Most of the elements we see in Hostiles we’ve seen hundreds of times before; the final product just feels like a mash up of every other film in this genre. The pace is excruciatingly slow, that you just end up zoning out of crucial scenes because staring at the wall would most likely be more interesting.
The conclusion is intense and suspenseful. For one of the few times in the film, you actually care about the outcome of the characters we’ve been following for the past two hours. The climax does in fact deliver, and it is extremely brutal and violent. But it doesn’t convey the intended effect, you just feel relief that something finally happens!
With very weak direction, characters and overall substance, Hostiles is just a saddening disappointment. As stunning as it is and how great the performances were, when a couple got up and left toward the end of the film, I couldn’t help but think to myself that they had the right idea, and I should’ve done the same…