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Hostiles – Movie Review

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Hostiles – Movie Review

Rating: C (Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Hostiles is the sort of western one is surprised is still made these days. With wider knowledge about the Indigenous relationships with American settlers, the whole “cowboys and Indians” concept seems rather outdated. That’s not to say it can’t be done properly, but Hostiles’s vision of the Old West still keeps the focus principally on the white folks. Director Scott Cooper throws in multiple subplots and too many characters and the Cheyenne Natives end up in the background most of the time. Add in a plodding pace and unnecessary epilogues and this entire project feels like a short film that has been annoyingly stretched out.

There is promise early on and Christian Bale gives a solid performance as a captain tasked with bringing a chief back to his land. This is clearly a man with a lot of anger and distrust inside of him, while still recognizing he has a job to do. The addition of Rosamund Pike as a grieving mother brings further conflict to the story, though this is also when focus starts to get split in half. When a disgraced sergeant, played by Ben Foster, is added to the party, the story gets particularly tedious. Hostiles feels like it finds a proper conclusion in the halfway point, but they obviously couldn’t release an hour long film. The second half of the picture ultimately becomes an obligation, rather than something that exists for proper storytelling purposes.

Cooper does direct the gunfight scenes with a knowledge of where everyone is and the sound mixers deserve credit for making sure the shots kick the necessary punch. Director of photography Masanobu Takayanagi takes full advantage of the landscapes and mountainsides, although few cinematographers wouldn’t jump at the chance to shoot a western. It is the most photogenic genre, next to musicals. Cooper fills the cast with characters, but it’s hard to care about any of them. There is a bit of an attempt to show the remaining humanity in Jesse Plemons’s lieutenant, although not much beyond that. Those hoping to see a good chunk of up-and-coming young actor Timothee Chamalet will be left disappointed. One imagines he would have gotten more screen time had Hostiles been filmed after Call Me By Your Name’s festival run.

The most aggravating portion of Hostiles comes in the third act, when Cooper misses a golden opportunity on when to end it. There has been a real epidemic lately of filmmakers disappointingly not noticing the ideal spot to close their stories. Hostiles might contain one of the worst offenders of this tiring trend. There is a perfectly satisfying finale to the story that brings a sense of an end and yet there is an extra fifteen or so minutes tacked on afterwards. It’s a gratuitous ending that comes across as rather insulting and just further highlights the major issue with Hostiles and how it sidelines its Indigenous protagonists.

Hostiles might have been perfectly acceptable as a short story, but there is not much to pin an entire feature film on. It proves it’s about time the western was revived in some major way, though many directors want to be John Ford and that is an admirable goal. As well acted and decently shot as Hostiles is, the pacing renders the entire film inert and just serves to highlight its multiple flaws. By the time it reaches the never ending climax, there is little in the story and its participants that is particularly compelling. It ultimately becomes a dour and dull experience and at times, rather offensive.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison