Hostiles: A Western for the Modern World

Maybe it’s my obsession with Westworld or maybe it’s the way Christian Bale rocks a big moustache, but I felt I had to see the movie “Hostiles”. Though it may not be for all viewers, fans of westerns and slow burn dramas can find a lot to enjoy in this tale.

The basic premise revolves around Bale’s character, Captain Joseph Blocker. An experienced and gruesome soldier, he is charged with transporting Yellow Hawk, an ailing native chief, and the chief’s family back to their homeland after more than a decade of imprisonment. Blocker is outraged as his life’s work has been fighting and rounding up natives, and this man is literally his enemy. However, given some modern sympathies to the plight of the natives, a presidential order has lead to his mission, and with the threat of his pension being withheld he reluctantly agrees to a month long trek across the wilderness to Montana. Thrown into the mix of the journey with his soldiers and the natives is a settler, Mrs. Quaid, played by Rosamund Pike.

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At many points this film does drag. If you’re like me and you’ve liked other westerns or even off the beaten path movies like “There Will Be Blood” then this is no problem. Just keep in mind this is not a Marvel movie with a bunch of special effects to grab you. Rather, the scenery of the west will captivate you, as will how quickly, horribly, and often violence and chaos can punctuate that beauty. I think that more than anything the movie illustrates an idea that goes hand in hand with gun ownership for me, one that is too often forgotten if you live where there are street lights and neighbors within earshot. No one is coming to save you but you. In the wilderness, as in space, no one can hear you scream. When disasters befall you, natural or otherwise, it’s up to you to decide on fight, flight, or freeze.

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Of special notes is Rosamund Pike. Some of her scenes are downright gut wrenching, and she definitely shows a full spectrum of emotion that will keep the audience mesmerized.

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Bale’s portrayal of Blocker is also noteworthy as he is an anti-hero. Here is a man who has hated and subjugated native Americans his whole career, yet he comes to respect them and wrestle with his demons from past and the present. The themes around race and “this is my land” also parallel some modern political drama we are now living, though perhaps in subtle ways. If you like a good western and can put up with some sluggish parts to reach the numerous unexpected and savage twists, “Hostiles” is worth a watch.

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