Written by Luke Barnes
Hostiles is a revisionist western film directed by Scott Cooper based on a story by Donald E. Stewart. The plot sees Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), and his squad of soldiers escorting a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their home in Montana during the final months of the Indian Wars.
This film really does feel different within the western sphere. It has familiar genre constructions that will be easily recognisable, but it also has a lot more nuance and depth going on under the surface.
The thoughtfulness of this film is best shown in it’s characters, we see Blocker start the film as a racist who hates Native Americans based on his own experiences from the war, right from the off he is not portrayed as a good or a bad character rather as a grey reflection of reality. As the film goes along Blocker forms a begrudging respect with the war chief he is protecting and the relationship furthers, and we see it from another dimension. Though this storyline has been done before, here it is used in a way to contextualise the western as a genre and show the evolution.
Moreover Rosamund Pike plays Roselee Quaid, a frontiers woman who loses it all. Through Quaid we are presented with the lived reality of frontiers life rather than the romanticised version we often see in westerns. Bad things happen to Quaid fairly regularly, and they are treated with a normality that becomes more and more troubling progressively, this causes you to think about other western films and characters therein and view them in a new light.
The film itself is very, very bleak, but the ending does bring with it a degree of hope that I think nicely compliments the film.
Overall, a pallet cleanser and recontextualised form for the western genre that feels incredibly honest and fresh.
The character work and ambiguity
It is incredibly bleak