Director: Scott Cooper
Writer: Scott Cooper
Actors: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Stephen Lang
Scott Cooper's Hostiles starts out with a scene that sets up the tone of the film immediately. A mother is teaching her children while the father is outside working. He looks to the horizon and sees a group of horses. He instantly runs in and everyone is aware of the situation. The children run and the father tries to fend them off. Here the audience sees that they group are Native Americans. They come in and kill the father and scalp his head. Later on they kill all three children leaving the mother alive who managed to escape. I came into the film with no clue what the film was even about, but the opening scene took me by surprise and had me sitting straight and paying attention. However, I was wary of how this depiction would come off, and thought maybe the film would be another "Native Americans are savages and the Caucasians are victims". However, the film immediately showed in what direction it was heading.
Hostiles is a film that deceptively feels like it is about the events that surround the characters. However, the whole film is about the characters and not about the events. This is why I feel Cooper did not have a "constant threat" throughout the film, as it kept changing. First with the group of Native Americans hunting them down, next with the prisoner, and finally with the land owner and his sons in Montana. The film presents a very clear goal, reach to a certain place. What happens in between is unknown. This is why the focus of the film focuses more on the characters rather than what happens. The audience is more interested in how the characters would react to certain situations rather than the situation itself. Here comes the main issue I have with the film. Although I do believe it was correct for Cooper to focus on the characters, I feel like his focus leaned towards one side very heavily. This I will explain in the following paragraph.
The main problem I have with this film is that it contradicts what it is trying to show thematically. The obvious theme in this film is to show how Americans were mistreating and dehumanizing Native Americans. However, the film itself I feel like mistreats the Native American characters! This is because they are not given any character development at all when compared to the others in the film. The film focuses heavily on Christian Bale's character Captain Joseph, which is fine since that is necessary in order to see the transformation. However, Chief Yellow Hawk and his family are not given any time for their character to grow. They just felt like cardboard cutouts of generic Native Americans rather than actual characters. Which is somewhat counter intuitive to the whole point of the film. We understood the transition of Christian Bale's character, but we never got insight into Yellow Chief. How did he turn from supposedly a person who would kill anyone in sight, including the friends of Captain Joseph, to suddenly being okay with them. It would have been more interesting to see both sides transforming rather than focusing on one. This was basically my main issue with the film and it really hindered my ability to accept the message of the film when the film itself is not able to abide by it.
Aside from the aspects discussed above, another point that really hindered the film was its pacing. Although I don't mind slow paced film, this one did not utilize it well. This sort of ties into my previous point. If they managed to include more backstory and flesh out the characters of the Native Americans they wouldn't have the issue of slow pacing. Heck Jesse Plemons' character and the prisoner got more development than the family. Which really bothered me. But overall the film was moving at a snails pace and for no purpose. It was not that aesthetically pleasing which meant it did not warrant that many nature shots. Yet the film was muddled with them and I felt like the time could have been used more wisely.
Although I have up until now been talking about some of the weakness I felt the film had, I did appreciate many aspects of the film. I enjoyed Bale's performance and felt like it was very believable and raw. He really carried the film by giving us the drastic transformation from a soulless captain to a forgiving man. Other than that, as I briefly explained, I liked the fact that the film was not about the events and more about the randomness of it all. It felt more authentic rather than having a contrived cat and mouse chase film. The film is showing us how travel during this time was unexpected, and anything can happen at any time and any where. Furthermore, I enjoyed the way they showcased both sides. Although they justifiably gave more sympathy to the Native Americans and showing how they were victimized, the director did not shy away from showing their violence and harm that they caused. I wish this balance was seen more in the character development side of things.
All in all, Hostiles is a film that does not shy away from revealing the ugly truth. Even though it was dramatized, it was still a good portrayal of the struggles that occurred in America at the time. The film also manages to have a great character arc that the audience is actively following and waiting to see the conclusion of. However, the film traps itself by preaching one thing and not abiding by it. Finally, the films pace and lack of eye catching cinematography hurts the dull moments in between the events of the film. Overall the film was interesting, but it is not something I will remember.