marco polo hotel xiamen ‘Hostiles’ is a grim Christian Bale Western with a slow trot
Even Cormac McCarthy fans might struggle with the unrelenting pain of “Hostiles,” a grim ‘n’ grimy new Western from professional sadist Scott Cooper.
Cooper made his directorial debut in 2009 with the entertaining “Crazy Heart,” but his next two films (“Out of the Furnace,” “Black Mass”) were sour slogs.
“Hostiles” is also a sour slog, as mean and mirthless as any Western in recent memory. (Even “Unforgiven” had jokes.) But at least this time out Cooper’s punishing style fits the story he’s telling. I can’t say I enjoyed the film, but I did admire its unwavering commitment to a cruel and hopeless view of humanity.
The first thing you should know about “Hostiles” is that the film opens with someone shooting a baby. The second thing you should know is that the film begins in 1892 New Mexico and stars a stone faced Christian Bale as Captain Blocker, a legendarily prolific killer of Native Americans.
Blocker has been tasked with a mission that he finds more than a little distasteful: Take the dying Cheyenne war Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their Montana tribal lands.
Yellow Hawk has killed friends of Blocker’s; Blocker has killed friends of Yellow Hawk’s. It’s not going to be a fun trip.
For his journey, Blocker enlists a handful of soldiers (Timothe Chalamet, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane and Jonathan Majors), and we’re off. Slowly.
Along the arduous ride, Blocker and his party pick up Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), a woman whose family has been killed by a Comanche war party. Rosalie, at first maddened with grief, gradually returns to her senses and takes a bigger role in the film, much to the film’s benefit.
This unlikely crew of soldiers, Indians and a widow run into all manner of trouble along the way including a nutty outlaw played by Ben Foster. And these perilous detours work as a form of team building for our mutually distrusting anti heroes. They grow to trust each other, however reluctantly.
Bale’s Blocker begins the movie as a hateful husk of a man. He ends the movie as a slightly less hateful husk of man. It’s not much of an arc, but the character allows the film to reckon with American empire and the useful monsters it created along the way to winning the West.
As grueling an experience as “Hostiles” can be, it is at least easy on the eyes and ears. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (“The Grey,” “Spotlight”) knows how to shoot a vista. And the forlorn score from composer Max Richter (“The Leftovers”) slops another layer of lament onto the proceedings.
The film’s long, hard journey culminates in the 99th scene of brutality, but then follows it up with a grace note: a sliver of light creeping into the abyss that is American history.