Hostiles review: Scott Cooper follows up his 2015 crime epic Black Mass with a switch of genre for Hostiles, which features a powerful lead performance from Christian Bale.

Hostiles review by Paul Heath.

Hostiles review
Hostiles review

From the director of Crazy Heart, Out Of The Furnace and 2015’s gangster epic Black Mass, comes period western Hostiles. Christian Bale leads the cast as a legendary Army captain who is tasked with transporting a Cheyenne chief through dangerous territory from New Mexico to Montana.

The year is 1892. We open on Rosamund Pike’s Rosalie Quaid teaching her two young children English grammar at the kitchen table of the family home somewhere in rural New Mexico. Outside is her husband who alerts them of an incoming danger, a hostile tribe who are after their horses and other property. In the opening few minutes, Quaid’s family are brutally massacred in a truly shocking first sequence, though the young mother manages to get away holding her fatally injured baby.

Cut to Christian Bale’s hardened, racist US Cavalry Captain Blocker (Bale) – a soldier who is summoned to his superior’s cabin where he is ordered to partake in an assignment to escort a dying Cheyenne chief across many states to Montana, along with his close family. However, Blocker instantly refuses as the chief is the notorious Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), now an elderly grandfather who is succumbing to the final stages of cancer, but an old adversary who is responsible for the brutal killings of many of Blocker’s friends. Met with an ultimatum that could see him court-marshalled in the latter stages of his glowing career, Blocker must carry out the task and so assembles a group of soldiers to aid him on his journey. The film charts that journey, the meeting of Pike’s distraught, grieving mother, and the events that unfold as they ride to Montana.

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Scott Cooper has, over the course of just three previous films, proven that he’s comfortable in many genres, and shows off some remarkable film-making with this, his first western. The film has a naturally plodding nature, which, for the first half doesn’t create a problem as the narrative slowly plays out before us. There’s enough going on throughout, including many obligatory gunfights, horse chases etc. – but the two-hour plus running time feels like a hard slog.

What the film does well is the fleshing out of each of the characters. The supporting cast are phenomenal, the likes of Adam Beach, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane and Paul Anderson all in the mix in wonderful turns. Rosamund Pike does well with the dark material she’s given, though Christian Bale is the stand-out, the already accomplished actor drawing some deserved Oscar buzz around the lead role of Blocker. His moody, but well-honed performance is excellent, the mental journey of his character throughout the film easily conveyed though even the subtlest of facial expressions and masterful delivery of writer/ director Scott Cooper’s dry dialogue.

Technically, the visuals are stunning, the work of cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi phenomenal and amongst his best work. He perfectly captures the sweeping vistas of New Mexico – some of the best committed to screens over the past number of years.

The story is involving, but one does find themselves glancing down at the watch at various points due to its excessive run-time – it will test the patience of anyone sat in front of it. The violence is also very cruel and extreme, though not necessary gratuitous, but some may find some scenes a very tough watch, and during such a drawn-out film, hits even harder.

Hostiles is far from a bad film, but it isn’t an all-round triumph either. The performances win you over, but you’ll be glad of that walk out of the multiplex when the time eventually comes.

Hostiles review by Paul Heath at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

Hostiles is currently awaiting a UK release.